- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 25, 2018

Rep. Luke Messer figures Indiana Republican primary voters will be happy enough with the massive boost in defense spending that they will be willing to stomach the rest of the budget-busting $1.3 trillion spending bill Congress passed last week.

Rep. Todd Rokita, one of Mr. Messer’s rivals in the May 8 Senate primary, counters that the bill looks a lot more like a Democratic win, with little action on immigration enforcement or pro-life causes but tens of billions of dollars in expanded government spending.

“This is the Washington swamp at its worst,” Mr. Rokita said. “Once again, leadership in Congress has failed President Trump and the American people by forcing us to vote on a $1.3 trillion bill that no one could have read, that doesn’t defund sanctuary cities, that doesn’t defund abortion provider Planned Parenthood and fails to fund an effective wall.”

But Mr. Trump signed the bill — albeit after surprising the White House by first threatening a veto — boosting Mr. Messer’s argument that his vote for the bill was actually the pro-Trump position.

“I voted to stand with President Trump and provide the men and women who serve our country the largest pay raise in a decade and ensure they have the resources they need to keep our country safe,” said Mr. Messer, adding that the bill also includes a down payment on Mr. Trump’s border wall, increases funding for school security and puts more money into tackling the opioid epidemic.

“The president asked us to fund our military, support our troops, begin the border wall, and we did that,” he said.

The 2,232-page spending bill — which was unveiled, cleared through both chambers of Congress and signed by Mr. Trump all in the span of about 40 hours — is already proving to be a dividing line as lawmakers approach the November midterm elections.

The bill passed both chambers with majorities of each party in support to the dismay of fiscal conservatives.

Brent Gardner, chief government affairs officer of Americans for Prosperity, and Nathan Nascimento, executive vice president of Freedom Partners, panned the deal in a letter to Congress by saying, “To say that this spending bill is a disappointment would be an understatement.”

“We have seen lawmaker after lawmaker, Congress after Congress, make promises on the campaign trail to reduce federal spending, only to arrive in Washington and vote for bills that do the exact opposite,” they said.

Mr. Trump, meanwhile, touted over the weekend what he saw as the upside of the deal.

“Because of the $700 & $716 Billion Dollars gotten to rebuild our Military, many jobs are created and our Military is again rich,” Mr. Trump tweeted Sunday. “Building a great Border Wall, with drugs (poison) and enemy combatants pouring into our Country, is all about National Defense. Build WALL through M!”

Democratic leaders also crowed over the bill. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said it was better than anything they won even when they had control of the White House and huge majorities in Congress.

But for ambitious members of the Democratic caucus — those eyeing the 2020 presidential race — opposition was seen as the politically astute choice.

Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Cory A. Booker of New Jersey and Kamala D. Harris of California voted no. Only Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Minnesota Democrat, voted for the legislation.

Mr. Sanders said he did not support the additional military spending, while he and other Democrats stuck by their promise to vote against any spending bill that didn’t grant full citizenship rights to illegal immigrant Dreamers.

Of Democratic senators facing tough elections this year, one — Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri — voted against it. But Sens. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Sherrod Brown of Ohio all backed the bill, citing the cash that will flow to their constituents.

“Investments in our roads and bridges create jobs and allow Ohio communities to grow,” Mr. Brown said. “Ohio is leading the way in innovative transportation solutions, including the Ohio State University’s work to support zero-emission bus manufacturers.”

Rep. James B. Renacci, the front-runner in the Republican field looking to challenge Mr. Brown, opposed the bill. He said there was not enough time to read a more than 2,000-page bill.

“Families and businesses in Ohio understand how to prioritize dollars and live within their means,” Mr. Renacci said. “The United States government must abide by the same rules as the citizens who built it. We must stop spending dollars that don’t grow our economy.”

For other Republicans, though, Mr. Trump’s support, lukewarm though it may have been, was compelling.

“President Trump asked Congress to send him this bill for his signature,” said Rep. Evan H. Jenkins, a Republican who is seeking to unseat Mr. Manchin in West Virginia. “While this bill isn’t perfect, it is too important not to support.”

But one of his top rivals in the Republican primary, Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, ripped the vote, saying the proposal did not set aside enough money for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and included funding for “sanctuary cities that protect criminals.”

“Evan Jenkins caved to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and the liberal special interests, and basically threw West Virginians under the bus,” Mr. Morrisey said.

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