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Conservatives lash out at GOP spending binge

STEVE PEOPLES

NEW YORK (AP) — The GOP is the party of fiscal responsibility no more.

That's according to some conservatives who are grappling with a Republican-backed spending binge that threatens to generate trillion-dollar deficits for years to come while staining a cherished pillar of the modern-day Republican Party.

While Trump and most of his closest allies largely avoided the subject, fiscal conservatives lashed out against Monday's release of President Trump's $4 trillion-plus budget, which would create $7.2 trillion in red ink over the next decade if adopted by Congress. That follows congressional passage of last week's $400 billion spending pact, along with massive tax cuts, which some analysts predict will push deficits to levels not seen in generations.

Deficit hawks in Congress and conservative activists who railed against President Barack Obama's spending plans called the GOP debt explosion "dangerous," ''immoral" and "a betrayal." Trump's own budget director, former South Carolina Rep. Mick Mulvaney, told lawmakers Tuesday that he probably would have voted against the spending plan if he were still in Congress.

American Conservative Union chairman Matt Schlapp warned the Republican-controlled Congress not to underestimate the political impact of its spending decisions.

"If the Republicans in Congress don't realize that spending control is one of the most important issues that our winning coalition cares about, if they are cavalier about spending decisions, I think we do risk our ability to go to the voters and say it matters to have us in the majority," Schlapp said. He added, "I would urge the White House to be willing to move congressional leaders to take tougher stands when it comes to spending."

The conservative backlash against government spending is hardly new.

Many still complain about the spending boom under Republican President George W. Bush that wiped out surpluses left by Democratic President Bill Clinton and helped produce big gains for Democrats in the 2008 election. The conservative tea party movement was borne in the subsequent years by the outrage over President Barack Obama's spending decisions.

But barely a year into his first term, Trump's GOP has shown inconsistent commitment at best to the three planks that have defined his party since the Reagan era: fiscal responsibility, traditional family values and a strong national defense. Beyond fiscal responsibility, the party's commitment to family values is also suffering as Trump and some high-profile allies struggle under the weight of repeated allegations of sexual misconduct and abuse.

Economic conservatism has long helped unify an otherwise divided GOP, but that no longer appears to be the case as Republicans brace for a difficult midterm election season.

Americans for Prosperity, the political arm of the network backed by the conservative billionaires Charles and David Koch, described the recent spending from Trump and Congress "a far cry from the so-called fiscal responsibility Americans heard on the campaign trail."

Voters may forgive Trump's spending habits because he's still learning the ways of Washington, but they will not be as kind to Republicans on the midterm ballots, said David McIntosh, president of the conservative Club for Growth, who lashed out at last week's Republican-backed spending plan as "of the swamp, by the swamp and for the swamp."

"They're not going to give a pass to the Republicans in Congress unless they start doing something to restrain the growth of government," he said.

"You can't let (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell and the spenders in the Senate set the agenda this year," McIntosh continued. "Because politically, if they set the agenda, then you're going to see big losses in the House and the Senate."

All told, Trump's budget plan sees accumulating deficits of $7.2 trillion over the coming decade. And that's assuming Trump's rosy economic predictions come true and Congress follows through — in an election year — with politically toxic cuts to social programs, farm subsidies and Medicare providers.

The budget includes $1.6 billion for the second stage of Trump's proposed border wall, a 65-mile segment in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. There's no mention of how Mexico would have to pay for it, as Trump repeatedly promised during the presidential campaign and after his victory.

The president's spending outline for the first time acknowledges that the Republican tax overhaul passed last year would add billions to the deficit and not "pay for itself" as Trump and his Republican allies asserted. If enacted as proposed — though no presidential budget ever is — the plan would establish an era of $1 trillion-plus yearly deficits.

Trump's spending plan is like "throwing gasoline on a house that's already on fire," said David Biddulph, co-founder of a national organization fighting for a balanced budget amendment. "I think it's awful what we're doing to our grandkids."

A self-described fiscal conservative, he blamed the political system more than the Republican Party for the latest spending binge. Yet he encouraged Trump to do more to cut spending on Medicare and Social Security, which he left largely untouched in his budget.

If not, Biddulph said, "I don't know that we'll ever dig our way out of this hole."

Conservative writer Quin Hillyer, a frequent Trump critic, was more willing to condemn Trump's GOP.

"Their spending behavior is abominable and mind-bogglingly irresponsible," he said. "I have no idea what the Republican Party stands for anymore."

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