- Larry Downing/Reuters
Conservatives moved quickly to revolt over a blockbuster budget deal reached among congressional leaders and the White House early Tuesday morning, calling it a “betrayal” days before US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is set to leave Congress.
“This budget deal is a betrayal of all the fiscally conservative promises Republicans made in the last election. It is emblematic of why working-class Americans are angry with congressional Republicans,” said prominent right-leaning economist Stephen Moore, in a statement released by the conservative group FreedomWorks.
The accord, which could be voted on as early as Wednesday, lifts budget caps imposed by the 2011 sequester in equal amounts in defense and nondefense spending for two years, makes a fix to prevent Medicare premium hikes, and tweaks Medicare and Social Security disability programs to stave off steep cuts next year.
Attached to the deal would be separate legislation to raise the nation’s debt limit well past the 2016 election, through March 2017. The US Treasury has warned that Congress needs to raise the debt ceiling by November 3 to avoid a potential first-ever default on the country’s obligations.
Conservatives like Moore were particularly perturbed by the spending increase over the budget caps, which had threatened to become a major dispute ahead of a December 11 deadline to keep the government funded. Moore called the agreement a “total victory” for US President Barack Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California).
“This sacrifices the one budget victory Republicans have won in the last five years – budget caps and sequester,” Moore said. “It is a total victory for Pelosi, Obama, and the lobbyists in Washington, and taxpayers are once again the victims. To raise the debt ceiling with no fiscal reforms in the budget process to stop the debt explosion guarantees near trillion-dollar deficits for as far as the eye can see.”
Moore and FreedomWorks weren’t the only ones angry. The heads of the conservative groups Heritage Action and the Club for Growth released a joint statement blasting what they called a “zombie” budget agreement, referring to the late hour at which it was released.
Erick Erickson, a conservative radio host, wrote that the agreement’s favorability toward Democrats makes it a gift to Donald Trump, the Republican presidential front-runner.
And in Congress, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), a presidential candidate, went off, calling the accord “ridiculous, deceitful, and a disgrace.”
“President Obama and Speaker Boehner are heading into retirement. Some people get a gold watch. Obama and Boehner are settling for at least $80 billion in additional spending and debt above the budget caps. Unfortunately, our children and grandchildren will be left to foot the bill long after they are gone,” Cruz said in part of a lengthy, five-paragraph statement.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-North Carolina), a member of the influential conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Tuesday that all candidates to replace Boehner as speaker should disavow the deal. That was a subtle nudge to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who is likely to succeed Boehner when House Republicans vote for their nominee Wednesday.
“Anyone who supports this legislation is complicit in supporting ‘the way things are’ in Washington,” Meadows said in a statement.
He added: “We are at an important crossroads in the House of Representatives. We have an opportunity to bring about real reform and fundamentally change the broken system in place on Capitol Hill. Therefore, I call on all candidates running for speaker of the House to oppose this legislation and go on record showing they do not support this approach to governing.”
For his part, Ryan withheld judgment on the agreement Tuesday but said the process by which it was negotiated – mostly in secret and at the leadership levels of Congress – “stinks.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said simply of the budget deal: “Here we go again.”
But despite the unanimous grumbling from the conservative wing of the party, Republican leaders still overwhelmingly expect the legislation’s passage to succeed. They expect anywhere from 70 to 110 Republicans to support the deal in the House, where it would face a bigger potential hurdle.
In a closed-door meeting, Boehner attempted – for the last time – to sell his skeptical rank-and-file on the legislation.
“This deal isn’t perfect by any means – but everyone should acknowledge what our alternative was,” Boehner said, according to a transcript of his remarks. “If we didn’t reach a bipartisan budget agreement, we would have been forced to accept another ‘clean’ debt ceiling increase. Instead, we negotiated a plan that will also support our troops and deliver real entitlement reforms.”