He *did* once say that he was “severely conservative,” remember. Who could have guessed at the time that he was telling the truth?
“Utah balances its budget every year, and while it may not be in fashion in Washington, we still care deeply about fiscal responsibility. The federal government, however, has followed a very different course, and our national debt now totals over $22 trillion,” Romney said in a statement to The Hill.
“This deal unfortunately perpetuates fiscal recklessness by adding another $2 trillion to the debt, and I cannot support it. We must repair our fiscal foundation and set a course to a balanced budget now so that we avoid a future debt crisis that would pose grave hardships for our children and grandchildren.”
Romney joins Sens. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.) in opposing the deal. Other Republicans, including Sens. Josh Hawley (Mo.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and John Kennedy (La.), are still undecided.
This is a rare instance in which it’s low-risk for a Republican in Congress to be on the wrong side of an issue from Trump:
It’s always low-risk for Romney to be on the wrong side of Trump because, unlike most senators, he’s more popular in his red home state than Trump is. POTUS couldn’t give him the Jeff Flake treatment even if he wanted to. And since Romney got elected to a six-year term just last year, the soonest he’d need to worry about Trump backing a primary challenger to him is 2024, when Trump will be in the final year of his presidency (assuming he wins next fall, of course) and his influence over the party will be waning. This was, then, a safe vote for Mitt. But it’s also relatively safe for Johnson, Braun, Lankford, and Paul simply because the deal is all but guaranteed to pass both chambers of Congress with Democratic support. It’s an unusual case of Trump not needing (many) votes from his own party to get something done, in which case the logical thing for congressional Republicans to do is maintain the pretense that they’re interested in shrinking government and vote no. That’ll keep fiscal conservatives back home happy. And Trumpers who might otherwise be unhappy at their defiance of King Donald won’t care since the bill will pass anyway.
No wonder, then, that the Trump cheering squad known as the Freedom Caucus decided to go their own way on this vote. In fact, a majority of House Republicans voted no today as the bill passed the lower chamber, 284-149. Pelosi had the votes she needed from her own party so Kevin McCarthy’s crew was free to engage in a bit of harmless tea-party nostalgia.
As for Trump’s own spending priorities, a former senior administration official (Bannon? Scaramucci? Kelly?) told Politico that “He doesn’t care about the cost. Wall Street is happy. The defense folks are happy. That’s good enough.” Trump allegedly told Senate Republicans in a meeting a few days ago how pleased he was at the complacency from Fox News and the rest of conservative media about the deal. Part of that complacency is due to the reality of the new Congress: Pelosi gets a say here, and as she proved with the standoff over funding for the wall this past winter, she’s not prone to blink in a staredown. Why force another standoff that’s destined to end in compromise, if not capitulation? But partly too it’s a matter of recognizing that the central fraud of the tea-party era, the idea that rank-and-file Republicans care meaningfully about limiting government, is now so transparent that it would be pathetic to have another big fight about it, particularly with the debt ceiling in the middle. Let’s just acknowledge reality. Trump has drained the swamp, says Philip Klein — of the tea party:
There are many ways in which the Trump presidency has been disruptive to the status quo. But when it comes to spending and deficits, he has restored Washington to a much more conventional place in which both parties agree to ignore warnings of fiscal disaster, and resolve their differences by simply agreeing to spend more money…
Should investors eventually demand higher interest rates [as a condition of purchasing U.S. treasuries], or should the economy falter — making Americans more dependent on public assistance, leading to federal stimulus, and reducing revenues — deficits will only get much deeper. This is especially true given the tacit agreement of both parties to do nothing to address the crisis facing Medicare and Social Security…
The Freedom Caucus, founded to supposedly represent the Tea Party values of limited government in Congress, has devolved into a PR shop for Trump. Mick Mulvaney, one of the founders of the group, has discounted the importance of deficits as the president’s budget man and chief of staff. And even Rush Limbaugh recently declared that, “Nobody is a fiscal conservative anymore. All this talk about concern for the deficit and the budget has been bogus for as long as it’s been around.”
One of the few lasting spending successes of the tea-party era, notes Klein, was the Budget Control Act passed in 2011, which placed caps on discretionary spending. The new Trump-backed budget deal repeals the final two years of that statute. “There’s stories being written that this is the final nail in the coffin of what used to be the tea party movement. That’s sad. But maybe true,” said Rand Paul. But don’t worry. He’ll be cheerleading again for Trump tomorrow.
Exit quotation from Patterico, attempting to answer the question “What is the point of the Republican Party?”: “This party stands for owning the libs and for nothing else.” Indeed.