Two-year budget deal leaves conservative Republicans fuming over deficits

Published: Wednesday, February 07, 2018 @ 3:26 PM

A two year budget agreement announced Wednesday by Congressional leaders was met with scorn from many more conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, as the combination of big increases in military and domestic spending left some GOP lawmakers frustrated over a lack of budget discipline, while outside groups quickly predicted the plan could swiftly bring back $1 trillion yearly deficits.

“It’s almost a quarter trillion dollar increase in spending,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), who told reporters it reminded him of the Obama Stimulus law. “We all know how obnoxious that was.”

“The spending increase is a big problem for a lot of people,” said Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), who said he liked the $165 billion extra in defense spending over two years – but not the $131 billion for non-defense programs.

“We’re going to add to the deficit in a huge way,” said Rep. Dan Webster (R-FL).

“The big spending, liberal Republicans spoke in favor of it,” said Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), expressing his frustration after a closed door meeting of GOP lawmakers.

Asked how he would vote, Brooks was clear.

“I’m not only a no, I’m a hell, no.”

Other Republicans were clearly having heartburn as well, inclined to support more money for the Pentagon, but acknowledging that without 60 votes in the Senate, they would have to give Democrats more money for domestic spending as well.

“If the agreement fully funds the military, then I’m willing to give on the other side of the equation,” said Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA).

“Fully funding the military, to me, is incredibly important,” said Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK).

As details of the two year budget deal were announced by Senate leaders, conservative groups on Wednesday quickly tried to marshal opposition against the plan.

Five other conservative organizations looked to put further pressure on Republicans with a letter that labeled the budget deal, a “betrayal of American taxpayers and a display of the absolute unwillingness of members of Congress to adhere to any sort of responsible budgeting behavior.”

Independent budget watchdog groups cringed at the details.

“Based on what we know, the budget deal would increase next year’s deficits to roughly $1.2 trillion,” reported the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which predicted that yearly “deficits would remain over $1 trillion indefinitely.”

The deficit in 2017 was $666 billion – so far in Fiscal Year 2018, the deficit is running about seven percent higher. Add in extra spending for this deal, plus over $100 billion in disaster aid, along with higher interest payments on the federal debt, and the deficit might be close to $1 trillion this year.

When deficits hit that level for four straight years in the Obama Administration, Republicans were outraged, as they forced the adoption of strict budget caps in 2010.

But those caps ultimately proved to be too tight on military spending for Republicans.

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Trump presses for teachers to carry concealed weapons as part of plans to deter school shootings

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 9:38 AM

With political pressure for action in the wake of last week’s mass school shooting in Florida, President Donald Trump on Thursday said he supports the idea of allowing some teachers to carry concealed weapons in schools, proposing that those teachers get bonuses for helping with security improvements to deter school shootings in the future.

“What I would recommend doing, is that the people who do carry (a weapon), we give them a bonus,” the President said in a round table meeting at the White House with state and local officials, arguing that is a much less expensive option than hiring thousands of armed guards.

“So, practically for free – you have now made the school into a hardened target,” the President added.

At the meeting, and earlier in the day on Twitter, the President set out a series of different ideas that he said would help with school security.

+ Stronger school security, by hardening entrance points to schools.
+ Allowing teachers and administrators to carry a firearm in a school.
+ Stronger background checks on guns sales, emphasizing mental health information.
+ Raising the minimum age – from 18 to 21 – to purchase a powerful weapon like an AR-15.
+ Doing more to provide mental health treatment to people – like the Florida shooter – who have been identified to authorities.
+ Ending the sale of ‘bump stocks,’ which can make semi-automatic weapons fire at a faster rate.

Mr. Trump said he was confident that the National Rifle Association would get behind his plans, including the change in the minimum age to purchase long guns.

“I spoke to them, and they’re ready to do things – they want to do things,” the President said, referring to NRA members as ‘patriots and good people.’

But in the Congress, there were already signs that changing the minimum age for buying an AR-15 would face GOP opposition.

“Why should a 20yr old single mom be denied the right to defend herself and her kids?” asked Rep. Tom Massie (R-KY) on Twitter. “We should lower the age to buy a handgun to 18, instead of raising the age to buy an AR15.”

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Trump backs arming “highly trained teachers” over school guards to deter future school shootings

Published: Thursday, February 22, 2018 @ 3:00 AM

A day after an emotional meeting with parents and family members to discuss the threat of school shootings in the United States, President Donald Trump on Thursday signaled his strong support for the idea of allowing some teachers and administrators to carry a firearm at schools, in order to form a first line of defense.

“Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive,” the President tweeted, arguing it would stop any “savage sicko” who was intent on attacking students.

“Far more assets at much less cost than guards,” the President tweeted, as he said undefended schools are a “magnet for bad people.”

“ATTACKS WOULD END!” the President added. “GREAT DETERRENT!”

In a series of morning tweets, Mr. Trump first objected to news reports which he said he would support arming teachers, and then went on to detail how this would be a special plan for only certain people at a school.

The President’s comments came hours before a second day of meetings on school security, as he prepared to meet with state and local officials; the White House had not made public who would be in that meeting in the Roosevelt Room.

In his Wednesday meeting, which featured wrenching stories from parents who lost children, and students who lost friends last week in Parkland, Florida, the President emphasized a series of themes:

+ Stronger school security, by hardening entrance points to schools.
+ Allowing teachers and administrators to carry a firearm in a school.
+ Stronger background checks on guns sales, though Mr. Trump has yet to define exactly what that would entail.
+ Raising the age to purchase a powerful weapon like an AR-15.
+ Doing more to provide mental health treatment to people – like the Florida shooter – who have been identified to authorities.

In Congress, Democrats were calling on the President to take extra steps toward gun control – but it was not clear if Mr. Trump would do that, even as the White House said earlier in the week that items like a ban on assault weapons was on the table for discussion.

Democrats pointed the finger at the National Rifle Association for the lack of action on the issue in House and Senate.

“The NRA has been an implacable enemy of legal mechanisms to enforce gun laws,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA).

But with a solid majority in the Congress right now favoring the side of gun rights, any quick move to press forward with gun controls seemed to be remote – unless it drew support from the President himself.

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Trump searches for answers amid wrenching stories from Florida school shooting

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 12:54 PM

Hearing from parents and students who lost friends and family members in last week’s school shooting in Florida, President Donald Trump said it was time for the nation to work together to better safeguard schools, as he advocated stronger security including the possibility of allowing teachers and administrators to carry concealed weapons during the school day.

“It’s very difficult, it’s very complex, but we’ll find a solution,” the President said as he wrapped the over hour long listening session, which featured tears from parents and students.

“I’m never going to see my kid again, I want you all to know that,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow was among those killed last week in Florida.

“My beautiful daughter, I’m never going to see again,” Pollack added, flanked by his two sons.

The over hour long session was respectful on all sides, as parents and students pleaded with the President to do something to end school shootings.

“I was actually in the second classroom that was shot at,” said Jonathan Blank, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“In my mind, as a kid, nothing that horrible should ever have to happen to you,” Blank added.

Echoing some of the calls for action by other Douglas students, Sam Zeif used his time before the President to make a tearful plea for change on powerful weapons like the AR-15.

“I don’t understand why I could still go into a store and buy a weapon of war,” Zeif said, fighting back tears.

“I don’t know how I’m ever going to step foot in that place again,” Zeif said of his school.

As for the President, he listened quietly as students and parents told their stories and made their requests – Mr. Trump said he’s still developing his plan to deal with school shootings, but seemed to outline a series of ideas that he backs:

+ Stronger school security, by hardening entrance points to schools.
+ Allowing teachers and administrators to carry a firearm in a school.
+ Stronger background checks on guns sales, though Mr. Trump has yet to define exactly what that would entail.
+ Raising the age to purchase a powerful weapon like an AR-15.
+ Doing more to provide mental health treatment to people – like the Florida shooter – who have been identified to authorities.

“If you have a teacher – who was adept at firearms – you could very well end the attack very quickly,” the President said of the idea of concealed carry in schools, as he compared it to airline pilots being allowed to carry a gun in the aftermath of the Nine Eleven attacks.

“If these cowards knew that the school was well guarded,” the President said, “I don’t think they would go into the school in the first place.”

“Thank you for pouring out your hearts, because the world is watching,” the President said as he wrapped up the White House event.

“We’re going to come up with a solution.”

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Congress waits to see what President Trump does on various gun control plans

Published: Wednesday, February 21, 2018 @ 8:08 AM

As several hundred high school students rallied at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, asking lawmakers to press for gun controls, there were more calls in the halls of Congress for action on gun violence, with both parties waiting to see what the President might do on guns, as the White House did not immediately reject some of the ideas, like age limits for people buying high-powered weapons like an AR-15.

“I think that’s certainly something that’s on the table for us to discuss and that we expect to come up in the next couple of weeks,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Tuesday, when asked about the age limit idea.

That plan is already drawing bipartisan support, as Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) announced that he is working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) on a measure to raise the minimum purchase age to 21, from 18.

Feinstein has also advocated a return of something that was put into law on a temporary basis in 1994, a ban on certain semi-automatic weapons.

“When the assault weapons ban was in place, the number of gun massacres fell by 37% and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43%,” Feinstein argues.

But while that might sell with a number of Democrats in Congress today, you don’t have to go back too far – only to the aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012 – to see that a number of Democrats voted against such a plan back then.

Some Democrats argue that 2018 – and the Parkland, Florida school shooting – will be different, as a growing number of students have demanded action on gun control.

While students from Florida were rallying at their state capitol in Tallahassee, several hundred students from the Washington, D.C. area marched to the Capitol to voice their demands.

“Keep guns out of schools,” read one sign. “Ban Assault Weapons,” was another, as the students urged action in the Congress.

“I came out of my office to say, I am with you 100 percent,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), one of many more liberal Democrats who would like to see action on gun control.

But despite the enthusiasm, the path forward for almost any gun measure is cloudy at best in the Congress, as GOP leaders have given no hint that they will suddenly bring gun bills backed by Democrats to a vote in the House and Senate.

The one wild card may be President Trump, who has held more liberal views on guns in the past, including support for an assault weapons ban.

On Tuesday night, the President tweeted his support for stricter background checks on gun buyers – but that type of statement can mean many different things.

Was the President saying he would back plans from Democrats to require private gun sales to have a background check – what’s been referred to for many years as the ‘gun show loophole?’

Or is this tweet from the President something less sweeping – simply about insuring that more information gets into the instant check database system?

Like lawmakers, reporters weren’t getting much in the way of detailed answers on some of the more controversial items of gun control legislation – for example, does Mr. Trump still favor an assault weapons ban?

“I don’t have any specific announcements, but we haven’t closed the door on any front,” Mr. Trump’s Press Secretary said in response.

It was a reminder that the President could roil the gun debate in Congress, depending on how he deals with some of these post-Parkland issues.

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