Cruz and Cotton are among the small clique of ambitious Republican senators in their 40s who have been laying the groundwork to run for president in 2024, along with Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Josh Hawley (Mo.). The dueling stances Cruz and Cotton staked out behind closed doors offer an early taste of the ideological battles we can expect as Republicans increasingly vie to take the torch from President Trump. These fights will flare up faster and hotter if the president loses in November. Others outside the Senate, such as Vice President Pence and former United Nations ambassador Nikki Haley, are also expected to compete for the nod.
Trump, who has proudly pronounced himself “the king of debt” and drove multiple businesses into bankruptcy before entering politics, has shown little personal concern, beyond occasional rhetoric, that the country is drowning in red ink on his watch. When Trump accepted the Republican nomination four years ago last night in Cleveland, he was campaigning on the promise to eliminate the national debt altogether in eight years. As president, though, Trump has grown the size of the debt from $19.9 trillion when he was inaugurated to $26.5 trillion.
The U.S. budget deficit widened to a record-high $864 billion last month, the Treasury Department announced last week.
But it is not right to blame the ballooning debt entirely on this novel coronavirus crisis. Congressional Republicans, including Cotton and Cruz, were voting to spend like sailors on shore leave long before this contagion necessitated emergency spending. Driven by the GOP tax giveaways to major corporations and the richest 1 percent in 2017, along with massive spending increases that were not paid for, the annual deficit grew from $442 billion in 2015 to $984 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.
Republicans also ran up the debt when they had unified control of the government under George W. Bush, which helped fuel the energy behind the tea party movement in 2010.
The spending parameters are just one element of a widening intraparty rift over the next phase of the coronavirus relief package. Erica Werner, Jeff Stein and Seung Min Kim – who reported on the private comments of Cruz and Cotton – note that the Republican and White House positions changed multiple times Tuesday. The White House appears to be backing away from Trump’s demand for a payroll tax cut and its previous resistance to more spending on testing and to shore up the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.