- Republicans have been pushing big-spending, deficit-booming items for much of Donald Trump’s presidency.
- The latest evidence came in the form of a spending deal expected to add billions to the federal deficit over the next decade.
- Some of the tea-party conservatives who came to Washington years ago to fight big spending feel demoralized at the state of the GOP.
WASHINGTON — Republicans in Congress are on a tear during Donald Trump’s presidency, ushering in big-spending and deficit-ballooning advancements in direct contrast to the tea-party wave that reshaped the modern GOP.
During the budget negotiations that resulted in a brief government shutdown last week, enraged conservatives blasted Republican leaders for championing a massive spending deal.
“When Republicans, given power, are consistently growing government and adding to the debt, it’s time to stop saying they’re abandoning limited government principles,” Philip Klein wrote in the Washington Examiner. “The reality is, they do not actually have any limited government principles. Their priorities are lower taxes and higher military spending, and they are willing to accede to growth in entitlements and other government programs if that is what it takes to secure their first two goals.”
A small group of conservatives who were a part of the tea-party wave that came to prominence during the Obama administration were equally dismayed.
“I think the Republican Party has no core,” Rep. Ken Buck of Colorado told Business Insider. “We stood for something” in 2010.
“I ran as a Republican — I came here because I believed that we could” rein in spending, Buck added. “All I said we’ve got to make sure that we, in a bipartisan way, reach an agreement on what our budget should be and not overspend. We can’t even get a vote. There are probably a dozen balanced-budget amendment bills in Congress, and we can’t even get a vote on a balanced-budget amendment.”
Buck summed up what he believed to be the state of fiscal conservatism in two words: “absolutely dead.”
“I’ve said for a while that one of two things is going to happen: Either we grow up, or we have a crisis,” Buck said. “And clearly we haven’t grown up.”
Rep. Mark Sanford of South Carolina was elected to Congress in 2013, after an infamous end to his gubernatorial career, and quickly became part of the tea-party faction opposed to President Barack Obama. He said it’s clear some members had shifted approaches under a friendlier president.
“I think it’s wholly inconsistent intellectually to say, ‘I believe in limited government in all its forms.’ I believe in limited taxes to government and limited spending,” Sanford told Business Insider. “What you can’t do is have your cake and eat it too here, which is to say, ‘I want to limit taxes but, I’m not going to limit spending.’ And that’s what’s going on right now.”
Senate Republicans are charging full steam ahead with big-spending items
In the Senate, where nearly every Republican voted for the massive budget deal last week, the reaction to big-spending items takes a softer tone than in the House.
With a few exceptions, Senate Republicans hold the belief that you have to spend money to make money. The big budgets and high-priced initiatives like a $1.5 trillion infrastructure package are intended to create more taxpayers and thus grow the economy to a point where spending can be more controlled in the future, Sen. Chuck Grassley told Business Insider.
“Considering the fact that we’ve long been a party that has believed you don’t need higher tax rates — you need more taxpayers to turn the budget around,” said Grassley, a former chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “I think the tax bill of pre-Christmas and the infrastructure bill that will come out from the president’s budget are two things that’s going to get this economy going at 3%. And you’ll never get fiscal responsibility if you have economic growth at 1.4% like we did for eight years under the previous administration.”
Sen. John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, voted against the congressional budget deal last week. The national debt “scares me half to death,” Kennedy said, noting that he supported more spending bills on the condition they are coupled with a plan to be paid for.
“Some people say, they say that Congress is spending money like a drunk sailor, and that’s not true,” Kennedy said. “A drunk sailor stops when he runs out of money. Nobody will loan him money. People will still loan America money, and we keep spending it.”
One of the Senate’s loudest critics of spending is Rand Paul, the Kentucky Republican who held up votes to prompt the brief shutdown on Thursday night. Paul hinted at opposition to further expensive items, telling Business Insider, “I don’t think there’s any money left to spend on an infrastructure bill at this point.”
But Republicans nevertheless are largely pleased, with Trump as no small exception. Trump’s annual budget proposal, unveiled Monday, featured significant hikes in the federal deficit.
Last year, his administration had proposed a balanced budget.