Republicans lawmakers are gathering in Orlando, Florida this week for a three-day retreat to plot policy and strategy, with an eye toward winning back the House in 18 months.
“There’s going to be a very substantive policy focus,” House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) told reporters in Washington before the conference started on Sunday. “What we have to do as Republicans is get back to being the party of ideas and the substance and the policy of conservatism, and that’s going to be a big part of the retreat.”
As the GOP plans its messaging, it’s become clear that many in the party have rediscovered an issue that had all but vanished over the four years of the Trump presidency: debt and deficit fears.
The Washington Post’s Tony Romm and Yeganeh Torbati report:
“Four years after racking up big bills under President Donald Trump, the party’s strategy is becoming clear: Republicans are straining to revive their message of fiscal discipline now that Democrats are in charge.
“The renewed Republican commitment to austerity marks a shift for a party that had lined up to advance Trump’s policies to build a border wall and expand the U.S. military with few objections, even as Congress added trillions of dollars to the deficit in the process. And it threatens to complicate the future of Biden’s economic agenda, including his proposed $2 trillion in upgrades to the nation’s aging infrastructure — and a plan to be unveiled this week that dedicates $1.8 trillion to families and child care.”
As President Joe Biden and Democrats embrace the idea that government can address the nation’s economic inequities and social challenges — and propose trillions of dollars in new spending programs to do so — Republicans see a messaging opportunity. “Support for Republicans will only grow as voters learn about Democrats’ wasteful spending,” says a new polling report prepared for the National Republican Congressional Committee and highlighted by Punchbowl News.
The report says, for example, that 71% of independents in battleground districts are less likely to vote for “a Democrat who voted for a 2.3 trillion-dollar infrastructure plan that spends 93% on things OTHER than improving our roads and bridges." (The Washington Post’s fact-checker called that attack line against Biden’s infrastructure plan that “highly misleading,” but that’s not likely to prevent Republicans from continuing to use it anyway.)
But Biden’s plans are popular…and fiscal conservatism has waned: One problem with that approach is that Biden’s spending plans — and his proposals to raise taxes on corporations and the wealthy — have proven to have broad public support, according to polls. At the same time, Republicans acknowledge that fiscal conservatism no longer resonates with the party’s base in the way that it did in the heyday of the Tea Party movement. The Hill’s Alexander Bolton reports: “Republicans are having a tough time generating the same outrage over Biden’s multitrillion-dollar spending agenda as they did over former President Obama’s signature initiatives: the American Relief and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care Act, which cost far less than what Biden is proposing on infrastructure.”
That’s one legacy of the Trump presidency. “It wasn’t something that was an important issue for President Trump, and so many of our base voters align themselves with President Trump. It’s almost like now debt, deficits, spending become abstract issues that a lot of folks aren’t paying attention to and should be,” Sen. John Thune (R-SD), the Senate Republican Whip, told The Hill. “I’m frankly very concerned about the level of spending and debt, and I think Republicans have got to be the adults in the room and exercise the fiscal responsibility that seems to have been absent, lacking the last several years.”
Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) told The Hill that most politicians are just using the debt issue to score political points. “Here’s the sad reality: Almost nobody in Washington, Republican or Democrat, cares much about the debt, but lots of grandstanders care a lot about who racks up that debt,” he said. “Most folks are OK with deficits just as long as it’s their party that gets the short-term political advantage of claiming to be saviors shoveling cash. I don’t care if you’re a Republican or a Democrat, the math is the math.”