Presidential politics permeated the Senate’s marathon late-night voting Thursday on a ten-year balanced budget plan. Four Republicans, including declared presidential candidate Ted Cruz of Texas, repeatedly sparred in an effort to demonstrate who was more concerned about national defense and who cared more about the nation’s long-term fiscal health.
In a preview of what could be in store once the 2016 Republican presidential campaign is fully joined later this spring and summer, Cruz, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina bickered and sniped at one another throughout Thursday night and early Friday morning.
Rubio and Paul both pressed for even more defense spending next year than the $40 billion the Republican budget would add to President Obama’s request. Paul wanted to find offsets to pay for the additional funds while Rubio insisted that wasn’t essential.
Cruz, the first to announce for the GOP presidential nomination this week, is promoting himself as a fiscal conservative with the leanings of defense hawks. He wavered on the floor before voting along with Graham in favor of Rubio’s amendment – which went down.
In an interview with Politico, Paul blasted his political rivals for what he described as reckless and irresponsible behavior and lacking the courage and conviction to address the country’s mounting debt.
“I think there are a great deal of problems for people who want to argue that they are fiscal conservatives and yet would simply borrow hundreds of billions of dollars for defense,” Paul said.
That was just one indications of the frayed nerves on the Senate floor last night.
Around 3:30 a.m. today, the Senate voted 52 to 46 to finally approve the Republican version of a fiscal 2016 budget plan – a highly controversial document designed to wipe out the deficit within a decade through $5.1 trillion of spending and entitlement cuts but not increases in taxes.
Both the Senate and House-passed budget plans breach the legal caps on Pentagon spending with a series of budget maneuvers and tricks, while targeting Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, education grants and scores of other social programs for deep cuts in the coming years.
On final passage, Rubio and Graham supported the Republican budget plan while Paul and Cruz sided with the Democrats against it. Graham was happy with the budget because he authored the original measure to breach the defense spending caps.
As finally approved by the Senate, the Defense Department will receive $40 billion above its base operating budget of $523 billion next year, through a backdoor transfer of funds. An additional $58 billion will be pumped into a special overseas account to finance U.S. military action in the Middle East.
After leaving town for a two-day swing through New Hampshire, Cruz today issued a statement saying that as much as he wanted to support his party, there were too many gimmicks in the budget for his taste. One of the more notable GOP gimmicks was to claim long-term tax revenues from the Affordable Care Act while at the same time vowing to repeal President Obama’s signature health care program.
“I congratulate the Senate on its passage of a budget for the first time in years, and I commend my colleagues for their efforts to try to mitigate the unrealistic spending increases and continually expanding deficits proposed by the President,” Cruz said. “However, given the gravity of the debt facing our children and grandchildren, I believe that Americans expect us to do more.”
“We need meaningful entitlement reforms, without budget gimmicks, and I cannot support a budget that claims to balance in the year 2025 by utilizing revenue increases generated by Obamacare taxes,” he added. Disappointed that his more fiscally responsible defense spending amendment went down, Paul told reporters, “It is irresponsible and dangerous to continue to put America further into debt. We need national defense, but we should pay for it.”
Paul, a libertarian Republican who favors a less aggressive U.S. military presence in the Middle East and elsewhere, is trying to convince more defense minded Republicans that he would be a viable commander-in-chief if he won election next year. He is expected to formally announce his candidacy early next month.
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