North Carolina senators split vote on Trump-approved budget deal that raises spending

Sen. Thom Tillis voted Thursday against a two-year spending deal supported by President Donald Trump but opposed by many conservative groups and GOP House members because it dramatically raises spending and will increase the federal deficit.

Sen. Richard Burr voted yes on the deal, which increases spending by $320 billion and lifts the national debt ceiling until after the 2020 election. It was the Senate’s final major piece of legislative action before its August recess, and Trump pushed for its passage even amid outcry from fiscal conservatives.

The final vote was 67-28 with 29 Republicans voting for passage.

“Budget Deal is phenomenal for our Great Military, our Vets, and Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Two year deal gets us past the Election. Go for it Republicans, there is always plenty of time to CUT!” Trump tweeted in the morning.

Tillis, who would not publicly disclose his position before the vote, said throughout the week that it was a tough choice.

“We’re very sympathetic to what we need to do to fund the government, (but) very concerned with the debt trajectory,” Tillis said Wednesday.

The $320 billion increase in spending is split between military and domestic spending, a compromise reached between the Democratic-controlled House and the Trump administration.

After the vote, he said: “The defense thing is the one that made it tough.”

Tillis, who is up for re-election in 2020, faces a Republican primary challenge from retired Raleigh businessman and author Garland Tucker, who has made reining in federal spending part of his campaign.

Several conservative groups, including Club For Growth, Heritage Action and FreedomWorks, pushed for the Senate to reject the measure.

“Any Republican who voted for this bill and still has the audacity to call himself or herself a fiscal conservative should probably consider changing his or her party affiliation,” FreedomWorks President Adam Brandon said in a statement after the House approved the measure with limited Republican support last week.

Rep. Patrick McHenry was the only Republican in the House from North Carolina to support the deal.

The North Carolina Democratic Party compared Tillis’ vote on the budget to his vote on the 2017 Republican tax bill, which cut tax rates for businesses and individuals but contributed to an increasing federal deficit.

“Senator Tillis now suddenly is claiming again that he’s worried about the national debt. Senator Tillis’ vote opposing this bipartisan budget deal was a vote against important investments in the health and financial security of middle-class North Carolinians and additional spending for North Carolina’s defense and military communities,” North Carolina Democratic Party spokesman Robert Howard said in a statement.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, urged his colleagues to support the bill and was able to get the majority of 53 Republicans in the Senate to vote for it.

“This government funding agreement is the right deal for our national defense. It’s the right deal because it ensures the United States maintains its full faith and credit. It’s the right deal because it brings predictability and stability through 2020 and moves toward restoring regular appropriations,” McConnell said.

Tillis has been endorsed by Trump in his re-election bid. The senator did not criticize the president for agreeing to the deal.

“The president did a good job of accepting probably the best of a series of bad options. The last thing we want to do is put ourselves into a short-term cycle for debt ceiling and continuing resolutions, that actually further discounts the productivity for the dollars we have,” Tillis said.

Brian Murphy covers North Carolina’s congressional delegation and state issues from Washington, D.C., for The News & Observer, The Charlotte Observer and The Herald-Sun. He grew up in Cary and graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill. He previously worked for news organizations in Georgia, Idaho and Virginia. Reach him at 202.383.6089 or bmurphy@mcclatchydc.com.