Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Republicans wouldn’t push for deeper spending cuts this year than already negotiated, because they don’t want to become an easy foil for President Obama during an election year by letting him portray them as obstructionist.
Earlier this month, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced he won’t allow a vote on a budget, which would mark three straight years without the Senate passing one. Reid has argued that because spending levels were set as part of last summer's deal to raise the debt limit, passing a budget resolution – which is non-binding anyway – would be superfluous.
“Regardless of Sen. Reid’s view, the law is quite clear on this – you’re supposed to pass a budget by Apr. 15,” McConnell said at a meeting of bloggers before his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Last year, Republicans and Democrats squared off on several dramatic budget battles, eventually cutting deals to avert a government shutdown and raise the debt limit. McConnell didn’t seem to have much appetite for another show down when I asked if Republicans would fight for more cuts this year.
“Realistically, the discretionary spending levels that were negotiated are the best we’re going to be able to pass,” he said. “We have to pass them, because without them, you can’t do the appropriation bills and you end up with an ominibus again, or a spending resolution that is completely unacceptable to conservatives. I think we will move forward with the limit that was agreed to. Now, I wish it were lower, but I think it’s important to remember we have a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president. And you have a choice between trying to squeeze them down as much as you can or being completely dysfunctional.”
He went on to say that, “As you know, the president is looking for opportunities to demonize the Congress. He picks fights with us all the time. His strategy is reminiscent of Truman campaign in 1948.”
McConnell explained, “Our goal is to keep the focus on his record. He owned Congress for two years, he got everything he wanted. And the reason he doesn’t want to talk about it is nobody likes it. They don’t like the stimulus, they don’t like the 43 percent increase in the debt, they don’t like Obamacare, they don’t like Dodd-Frank, they don’t like the fact that he took over the student loan program, they don’t like anything he’s done.
Given that his policies are unpopular, McConnell argued, Obama is trying to change the subject by portraying Republicans as obstructionists.
“Our view is, we can’t let him make us the foil,” he said.
When I posed the same question to freshman Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., earlier today, he said that Republicans needed to go further, but said that the real driver of the long-time debt is entitlement spending rather than discretionary outlays.
“The notion that somehow we’re going to cave on these issues, because we don’t want a government shutdown – we are headed for the mother of all government shutdowns when we run of money,” Rubio said. “And that is where we are headed. A debt crisis where people stop buying our bonds, demanding higher yields, meaning higher interest rates on the amount of money that they’re letting you borrow, that stuff happens quickly. You can’t predict it. You need to look no further than what the European Union is going through, and that’s where we’re heading.”
He argued that, “Anyone who is in favor of not doing anything on Medicare is in favor of bankrupting Medicare.”
Despite having controlled both chambers of Congress for two years, he said, Democrats did not address the debt crisis.
“This president has no ideas on how to do it,” he said. “His only idea is, let Paul Ryan or someone else come up with an idea and attack him politically and personally for it.”
Rubio also blasted Reid’s argument that there was no need for a budget.
“I am very grateful that I have not been here long enough to think that that thought process that you just laid out is normal,” Rubio said me. “Even the most disorganized individuals I know, every family I know of, every business I know of, every entity that I deal with, has a budget. The idea that somehow the most powerful government in the history of the world that runs the most powerful military in human history does not have a budget, I just think that’s weird. I’m sorry, I just really don’t understand the logic of that.”