With most Republicans backing political outsiders in the 2016 presidential race, Idaho GOP Rep. Raul Labrador said Wednesday that his party must “wake up” and regain the public’s trust by tackling a $19 trillion debt with cuts in the Pentagon and elsewhere.
“If you’re a true fiscal conservative, you’re going to look at all the things,” Labrador said. “What are we doing in the Pentagon that is bloated? . . . Are there too many generals in the Pentagon? I think the answer is yes.”
For too long, Labrador said, Republicans have looked to cut social programs that are popular among Democrats without taking a hard look at the GOP’s sacred cows. He said funding the military should remain the nation’s highest goal but that defense projects must be examined as a way to “practice what we preach.”
If we’re going to tell a single mother in Idaho that we’re going to be cutting that program, we better be willing to tell the establishment in Washington, D.C., that is full of multi-billionaires that we’re willing to look at the bloated budgets of the Pentagon and other areas.
Republican Rep. Raul Labrador of Idaho
“If we’re going to tell a single mother in Idaho that we’re going to be cutting that program, we better be willing to tell the establishment in Washington, D.C., that is full of multi-billionaires that we’re willing to look at the bloated budgets of the Pentagon and other areas,” Labrador said at the Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Conservative Policy Summit in Washington.
Differences among Republican conservatives were on full display at the annual summit, with Labrador and other members of the party’s House Freedom Caucus showing little interest in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s calls for unity among the ranks.
In a speech that kicked off the event, Ryan, of Wisconsin, said the party can make gains in 2016 “because the left is intellectually exhausted” and Democratic ideas have failed. But he said conservatives must first “unite the clans.”
The left would love nothing more than for a fragmented conservative movement to stand in a circular firing squad, so the progressives can win by default.
Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin
“The left would love nothing more than for a fragmented conservative movement to stand in a circular firing squad, so the progressives can win by default,” Ryan said.
Republican Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, another member of the House Freedom Caucus, said members of Congress are always urged to be team players in Washington.
“The problem for me is my team is in western North Carolina,” he said.
Meadows said Congress has a “deficit of trust” and must move quickly to fix it.
“The American people do not believe that anything is going to change in Washington, D.C.,” he said. “They know we’re headed in the wrong direction. They believe we need to make a U-turn.”
Many conservatives took shots at Washington, D.C., saying the region is the prime beneficiary of federal spending.
“If you look at Washington right now, six of the 10 richest counties in America are suburbs of Washington, D.C.,” said Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse. “A river of money flows to this place. Job creation is happening here, but at a negative consequence for the nation as a whole.”
Labrador called the exploding national debt “the most crushing thing” facing Americans and said that Congress must stop its growth.
“The American people right now do not trust Republicans in Congress to implement the right vision,” he said. He said that GOP voters in the Iowa caucuses on Monday showed that distrust by backing outsiders by large margins, adding: “We need to wake up to that reality.”
Labrador has made similar arguments before about the need for his party to cut waste and fraud in the defense budget. When he voted against a defense authorization bill in 2012, he said a Republican willingness to trim defense spending could help bring Democrats to the table with cuts in entitlement programs, which he called the major drivers of the national debt.
The House Freedom Caucus gained prominence last year for its role in demanding the ouster of former House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.
Former South Carolina Republican Sen. Jim DeMint, the president of the Heritage Foundation, said the group had “gotten a lot of grief” for taking strong stands. And Fred Barnes, one of the founders of the conservative Weekly Standard magazine, introduced its members as the “bomb-thrower caucus.”
Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio, one of the group’s founding members, said that conservatives this year will succeed if they demonstrate their differences with President Barack Obama and the party’s two presidential candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Sometimes you’re going to tick people off.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio
“It’s just that simple,” he said, adding that boldness for the House Freedom Caucus can be a good thing: “Sometimes you’re going to tick people off.”
Labrador recounted his personal story, how he was raised by a single parent in Puerto Rico. He said his mother was a Democrat who loved the Kennedy family but then became a Republican only because she liked former President Ronald Reagan.
“She believed in Ronald Reagan because she trusted him,” Labrador said.