'Where Are the Fiscal Conservatives?': Senate GOP Continues to Blast Bipartisan Budget Deal Ahead of Vote

Senate Republicans continued Wednesday to come out swinging against a bipartisan budget and debt limit deal that is expected to be voted on Thursday morning, despite President Donald Trump and Republican leadership urging its members to support it.

The hang-up for Republicans in the upper chamber is that the two-year, $2.7 trillion budget agreement would increase federal spending by $320 billion and add to the country's surging deficit — a non-starter for some.

"Where are all the fiscal conservatives? What happened to the Tea Party movement?" Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, said on the Senate floor. "They all thought debt was bad when it was President [Barack] Obama's debt. But they're not very much into self-examination. They're not interested in the debt now that Republicans are complicit."

A crucial component of the deal would also suspend the debt limit through July 2021, preventing the U.S. from defaulting on its loans and avoiding what would be an economic crisis. Congress would also avoid having to worry about a potential government shutdown after it returns from the long August recess in September. The deal was hashed out by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and has received the blessing of Trump.

Republicans blast budget deal
Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) talks to reporters as he heads to the U.S. Capitol for the weekly Republican policy luncheon March 5 in Washington, DC. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty

The Senate will vote on the deal at around 11:30 a.m. Thursday after roughly two hours of debate.

The budget is expected to pass with largely Democratic support. It grows funding for domestic social programs and increases defense spending. But Republican leadership has continued to whip the vote, hoping to avoid having a majority of its members defect and vote against the president's wishes — as the House did.

"I'm confident it is not exactly the legislation that either side of the aisle would have written. But I'm equally confident that this is a deal that every one of my colleagues should support," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, also a Kentucky Republican, on the floor. "That means every one of our colleagues should actually vote for it. The House has passed this deal. The president is ready and eager to sign it."

GOP Senator John Thune, the majority whip, indicated on Tuesday they had yet to secure half of their party member's votes.

"Well, we're in the process of working that vote," the South Dakota lawmaker told reporters. "I'm hopeful and optimistic that when the time comes that we'll have the votes we need to get it done."

Senator Richard Shelby, an Alabama Republican and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, gave a similar response to reporters Wednesday.

"That's a good question," he responded when asked if half of his GOP colleagues would support it. "I hadn't counted. Senator Thune would be the person to propose that question to."

Republicans berate budget deal
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), a primary negotiator for the Republican side, speaks about a bipartisan border security compromise negotiated by congressional leaders at the U.S. Capitol on February 12 in Washington, DC. From left to right are Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), Sen. Todd Young (R-IN), Shelby, Sen. John Thune (R-SD) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Photo by Win McNamee/Getty

Facing Republican revolt in the House, the chamber passed the budget deal last week with mostly Democratic support: 65 yes votes from Republicans and 219 from Democrats while there were 132 no votes from Republicans and 16 from Democrats.

"Here we are, $22 trillion in debt, trillion-dollar deficits and we've got this abomination coming across," Senator Mike Braun, an Indiana Republican, said in a statement. "It's sad."

Republican Senator John Kennedy of Louisiana, a close ally to Trump, has come out against the budget, citing deficit spending. The move could convince on-the-fence members to take the same stance.

Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, also opposes the budget agreement. However, he told Newsweek Wednesday afternoon that GOP leadership had not pressured him to reconsider since stating his opposition.

"There's not a Democrat in Washington that cares about the debt," Paul added in his floor speech. "But here's the problem: the only opposition party we have is the Republican Party, and they don't care either. They just come home and they're dishonest and tell you they care, and then they vote for this monstrosity."

Despite Senate Republicans' objections to the deficit spending, many of them voted in 2017 for Trump's tax cuts, which the Congressional Budget Office has projected that, even with the economic offsets, the legislation will add nearly $2 trillion to the deficit by 2028.

Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a staunch supporter of Trump, questioned the practicality behind his colleagues' reasoning for opposing the budget deal.

"To my colleagues who oppose the budget deal and debt limit increase: What is your plan?" Graham said in a Tuesday tweet. "Exceed the debt limit? 'Shut the government down?' A continuing resolution that guts our military?"

Correction: This story was updated to correctly reflect the state that Sen. Josh Hawley represents.

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