Fiscal hawks on Capitol Hill panned the budget deal reached by Republican leaders and Democrats on Wednesday as fiscally irresponsible and an abrogation of the GOP’s congressional majorities.
Senators and House members on the right immediately came out against the agreement, while a large number of leadership-aligned Republicans were also noncommittal. It’s unclear whether the opposition to the deal, which calls for $300 billion in new spending, will put it in jeopardy. But it has certainly put the Republican Party’s reputation for fiscal discipline on the rocks, coming on the heels of a tax law projected to increase the deficit by $1.5 trillion.
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“This budget deal is a betrayal of everything limited government conservatism stands for and I will be voting no,” said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah).
A slew of House conservatives stood up in a closed-door Republican Conference meeting Wednesday to chide Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and his team on the package, which would increase spending on defense and domestic programs. One of those was House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a longtime Ryan ally, who argued that the plan would balloon the nation’s more than $20 trillion debt.
Hensarling was far from alone. As Republicans exited the meeting, many decried the proposal as a betrayal of the party’s commitment to fiscal responsibility. House Freedom Caucus member Dave Brat (R-Va.) called it “a Christmas tree on steroids.” And group leader Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) called the agreement a “monstrosity.”
“I just never thought that Speaker Ryan — with his history and his background in budget issues, and his concern with the debt and deficit issue — I just never thought that this would be something that the Congress would put forward,” Jordan said.
“Republicans control government and are going to allow a spending increase of a quarter of a trillion dollars, second only in the past decade to the Obama spending stimulus boondoggle? And run a $1 trillion deficit? It makes no sense. And it’s certainly not what we told the American people we would do when they elected us.”
The conservative opposition could make passage difficult. While the budget deal is expected to easily clear the Senate, House GOP leaders know they’ll struggle to get votes and will have to rely on Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Democrats to pass the agreement. Pelosi, for her part, spent hours on the House floor Wednesday demanding legislative action on Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. President Donald Trump has ended the program protecting them from potential deportation, and Democrats have demanded to address the problem for month.
Some conservative senators were just as incensed as their House counterparts. A surprising number of Republican senators filing out of a briefing with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) refused to commit to supporting the accord, which was announced a day before the federal government is set to run out of money.
Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) called it “a terrible, no good, rotten way to run your government.”
“It’s a really bad idea to blow through the budget caps,” Paul said. “It’s bad for the country.”
Paul and Lee have been reliable foils to McConnell on spending bills for years. But a number of other senators expressed misgivings, after the GOP’s years-long campaign against increasing the deficit when Barack Obama was president.
“The $300 billion, of course, is concerning,” said Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.). “Does it trouble me? Yes it does. Even though there’s a lot of good stuff in there that I support.”
“I’ve got to get more details on it, but I’m concerned about the increase in deficits and debt this may create,” said Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.).
Outside conservative groups also pilloried the plan, with FreedomWorks calling it “a fiscal abomination” and Heritage Action saying it’s “irresponsible and moves the country in the wrong direction.”
Ryan and his top lieutenants will also need Trump to help them get the agreement through the House.
“I am confident we will get a majority of the majority,” said a top House Republican. But “we’re definitely going to need Trump, and we’re going to need Democrats.”
Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) called it a “day of reckoning” that fiscal hawks have long known was coming.
“Some folks will be worried about the dollar values in this deal, that’s legitimate,” said Woodall, a member of the House Budget Committee who has railed against the nation’s swelling debt. Overall, though, the deal is “imperfect but positive,” he said.
Facing protests on the right and the left, Ryan’s whip team will have to scramble. The government runs out of money at midnight on Thursday, leaving GOP leaders less than two days to whip votes for the accord, which will be attached to a spending bill by the Senate.
The deal is a double-whammy of sorts for conservatives. For one, it increases the federal budget by more than $300 billion but is not entirely offset by other savings. Many conservatives have called for the new spending to be countered with cuts to other programs, but only about a third of the plan, $100 billion, actually is.
And that amount is spread over 10 years, said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who said the military won’t even be able to spend the $80 billion infusion it’s about to get for this year.
“I’m discouraged. The amount of military spending, defense spending is far above the president’s request,” Corker said. “It’s very difficult to have that big of an increase in one year and then be able to use it.”
Further infuriating the right: The bipartisan budget plan would also include a one-year suspension of the debt limit, without spending cuts. To help win over fiscal hawks, the deal would create yet another committee charged with dealing with Congress’ fiscal dysfunction.
The panel, chaired by House Budget Committee Chairman Steve Womack, would be required to submit a report by year’s end. Any recommendations it makes would need to be approved by a super-majority of Congress.
Rep. Chris Collins (R-N.Y.) called the committee a “big sweetener” for conservatives as they’re forced to swallow a massive spending agreement that would also increase the nation’s debt limit.
After the last short-term debt ceiling increase, Ryan had blessed a small group of unhappy Republicans to start a working group to hash out a debt ceiling plan they could support. The budget accord, however, throws any push for dollar-for-dollar cuts — or even a partial offset — out the window.
“This spending proposal is disgusting and reckless — the biggest spending increase since 2009,” tweeted conservative Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) “I urge every American to speak out against this fiscal insanity.”
The House Freedom Caucus is expected to oppose the plan, Jordan said. But they will be far from alone. Members of the House Republican Study Committee, a group of more than 160 conservative members who typically work hand in hand with GOP leaders, are also unhappy. And some of their members stood up to oppose the proposal in the GOP Conference.
The group’s former leader, Rep. Bill Flores (R-Texas), said about one-third of lawmakers who spoke were in opposition to the deal. At one point during the conference, Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) asked questions about the debt limit part of the deal but GOP leaders, he said, couldn’t answer.
“That number is just too big,” Brat said as he left the meeting, later adding: “You got trillion-dollar deficits as far as the eye can see.”
John Bresnahan contributed to this report.