GOP Presidential Hopefuls Unite Against Budget Deal
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The Fiscal Times
December 15, 2013

While a substantial majority of House Republicans rallied Thursday evening to help pass the bipartisan budget deal negotiated by Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, many of Ryan’s potential rivals for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination came down hard on the deal.  

This highlights an important fault line that seems to be developing among Republicans in the early run-up to the next presidential campaign.

Related: Tribalism Threatens GOP Senate Chances in 2014

Ryan defended the budget blueprint he negotiated with Democratic Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray as a sensible compromise that enabled both parties to preserve their fundamental principles while averting the possibility of another government shutdown early next year. The modest budget agreement would cancel the automatic across-the-board spending cuts for two year, boost domestic and defense spending, and make only a small dent in the deficit over the coming decade.

There would also be no tax increases – a bedrock GOP requirement – nor would there be cuts to benefits under Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security, the Democrats’ bottom line.

“Elections have consequences,” said Ryan on Thursday. “To really do what we think needs to be done, we’re going to have to win some elections. In the meantime, let’s make divided government work.”

What Ryan took off the table for the next two years were the guaranteed cuts under the Budget Control Act of $200 billion split between defense and domestic spending. Because the $1.2 trillion reduction over 10 years was never negotiated, the cuts were mandated under a provision known as the sequester, which meant they would be made across the board without regard to need or priority. Ryan claims that the new budget reduces the deficit at a different level and does not undermine the BCA.  But conservatives fear that promises of continued deficit reduction are never kept.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), one of a handful of Republican presidential wannabees, dismissed the agreement as “compromise for the sake of compromise” that does nothing to address the nation’s long-term debt by making fundamental changes in entitlement and tax policies.

“We need a government with less debt and an economy with more good paying jobs, and this budget fails to accomplish both goals, making it harder for more Americans to achieve the American Dream,” Rubio declared Thursday. “Instead, this budget continues Washington’s irresponsible budgeting decisions by spending more money than the government takes in and placing additional financial burdens on everyday Americans.”

Related: Why Paul Ryan May Be the One to Beat in 2016

Freshman Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ted Cruz (R-TX), others frequently mentioned in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, announced their opposition to the budget plan, which will come up for a Senate vote early next week.

Paul said it would be “shameful” to trade automatic, across-the-board spending cuts under the sequester for the promise of future reductions. “The small sequester spending cuts were not nearly enough to address our deficit problem,” Paul said in a statement. “Undoing tens of billions of this modest spending restraint is shameful and must be opposed. I cannot support a budget that raises taxes and never balances, nor can I support a deal that does nothing to reduce our nation’s $17.3 trillion debt."

Cruz issued a statement shortly before the House vote, saying the agreement  “moves in the wrong direction” and continues to provide funding for the Affordable Care Act, which he has vehemently opposed.

“It spends more, taxes more, and allows continued funding for Obamacare. I cannot support it,” Cruz said. “This proposal undoes the sequester’s modest reforms and pushes us two steps back, deeper into debt. Supporters of this plan are asking for more spending now in exchange for minor changes that may possibly reduce spending later. That may be a fine deal for Washington, but it’s not for the American people.”

This strong opposition from three prominent GOP freshmen could complicate passage of the Ryan-Murray blueprint in the Senate, where many Republicans – including Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) and Republican Whip John Cornyn (TX) – are lining up against it.  At the same time, major conservative outside groups including Club for Growth and Heritage Action for America have declared war on the budget deal. Their aggressive opposition and efforts to intimidate members into voting no has drawn sharp fire from House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

The House approved the Ryan-Murray deal 332 to 94, with 169 Republicans joining with 163 Democrats to pass the bill. Sixty-two Republicans and 32 Democrats voted against the budget blueprint.

Related: Rand Paul Edges Out Marco Rubio in CPAC Straw Poll                                       

Rubio came out strongly against the agreement once it was announced late Tuesday. He issued a statement even before the details were released and then continued his attacks on Mike Huckabee’s radio show and Fox News.

Ryan was clearly perturbed with Rubio’s tactics—especially the Florida Republican’s assertion that the deal would “spoil the American Dream.” At one point on Thursday, Ryan said during a television interview that Rubio should “read the deal and get back to me.”

Rubio arrived on Capitol Hill with a flourish early this year and quickly generated speculation that he would mount a presidential campaign in 2016. But his high-profile involvement in drafting the Senate-passed comprehensive immigration reform soured his relations with the Tea Party and other conservatives who strongly oppose any measure that would offer a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants.

Rubio’s aggressive opposition to the budget deal, Obamacare and other government spending measures is seen by some as part of Rubio’s efforts to mend his strained relations with grassroot conservatives.

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Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.