- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The candidates running for the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate in Indiana clashed Tuesday over whether it was necessary to pass a two-year bipartisan spending deal that increased spending by $300 billion.

Reps. Luke Messer and Todd Rokita joined former state Rep. Mike Braun Tuesday night for a debate, hosted by Americans for Prosperity-Indiana, where they pressed on the deal lawmakers passed last month that lifted caps on defense and nondefense spending and raised the debt limit.

The winner of the race is expected to face-off against Democrat Sen. Joe Donnelly, who supported the deal.

Mr. Messer backed the proposal. Mr. Rokita voted against it, and former state Rep. Mike Braun said he would have opposed it as well if he served in Congress.

Asked to explain his decision, Mr. Messer said President Trump and Secretary of Defense James Mattis has called on Congress to bolster the military.

“That vote was a vote for our troops, a vote for our national security and frankly a vote in support of this president and his policies,” Mr. Messer said. “He could not have been clearer about what he was asking us to do.”

Mr. Rokita said lawmakers should have funded the military and offset any additional spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Mr. Rokita blamed GOP leaders in Congress, not Mr. Trump, for authoring the spending plan that the president signed into law.

“It is a false choice between having to choose between increased military spending and putting debt on our children,” Mr. Rokita said. “It was a choice our leadership gave us. … Luke Messer is part of the Republican leadership in the House.”

Mr. Messer countered by questioning Mr. Rokita’s loyalty to Mr. Trump.

“The choice before us was a choice for our troops and a choice that the commander-in-chief asked us to make, and you can’t run around with a cardboard cutout over your shoulder and say you support the president and not support him when he asks us to support our troops,” he said.

Mr. Braun said the bill is part of a “systemic” spending problem in Congress that shows how disconnected lawmakers are from ordinary voters.

“I like Rand Paul’s description of it: The only way we get things done is Democrats and Republicans hold hands, spending goes up, the debt goes up, and we get into the same merry-go-round year after years,” he said. “That is not going to change unless you get people in there that have different ways of looking at it.”

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