House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, right, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., center look to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., as she speaks during a new conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, right, and House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of La., center look to Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., as she speaks during a new conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2015. AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Scalise Emerges as Defense Hawks' Pick for House No. 2

The majority whip backed their plan to evade spending limits by using the wartime contingency fund.

The soul of a party can be seen through the cold num­bers of its budget. And for years, Re­pub­lic­ans have been split between de­fi­cit and de­fense hawks.

Now, as mem­bers look to cast a vote for their lead­er­ship near the end of the month, mil­it­ary-minded Re­pub­lic­ans are push­ing hard for a clean win to pro­mote Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scal­ise to the No. 2 post over Rep. Tom Price.

They can point to the date that sealed their sup­port: March 25.

That’s when the GOP lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing Scal­ise, went around Price to push for a $3.8 tril­lion budget that was nearly identic­al to his, but with $2 bil­lion more war fund­ing and few­er re­stric­tions, po­ten­tially loosen­ing up bil­lions more. The ini­tial blue­print re­leased by Price, the Budget Com­mit­tee chair­man, stalled at 105 votes, while the one backed by lead­er­ship and the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee ul­ti­mately nabbed 228 votes. Rep. Richard Nu­gent, a mem­ber of that com­mit­tee, says he backs Scal­ise for ma­jor­ity lead­er be­cause he “whipped hard” for their pre­ferred budget.

“That was the de­cid­ing factor,” Nu­gent said. “I really like Dr. Price. He stands for the val­ues that I be­lieve in. We just happened to dis­agree on how we’re go­ing to get to that end num­ber.”

Not­ing his three sons who fol­lowed him in­to the U.S. mil­it­ary, he ad­ded, “They’re the ones that ul­ti­mately will pay the ul­ti­mate price if we’re not trained and equipped to where we should be.”

At is­sue is how to get around the 2011 budget caps that al­most every­one now wants to avoid. Demo­crats want much more for do­mest­ic spend­ing, while many Re­pub­lic­ans want much more for de­fense. Price’s budget, which claimed up to $94 bil­lion in off-the-books spend­ing to boost a Pentagon war fund—Over­seas Con­tin­gency Op­er­a­tions—still didn’t ap­pease sev­er­al mem­bers on Armed Ser­vices, in­clud­ing Nu­gent, Mike Turn­er, Brad­ley Byrne, Ry­an Zinke, Duncan Hunter, and John Flem­ing, who are pub­licly sup­port­ing Scal­ise.

Price’s sup­port­ers say that he ad­mir­ably dealt with­in the con­fines of the budget caps, known as se­quest­ra­tion. Paul Ry­an, the former Budget chair­man and the highest-pro­file Price back­er, told Na­tion­al Journ­al, “I think de­fense hawks are more frus­trated with the situ­ation of the se­quester—and that’s not really Tom Price’s cre­ation.

“There’s al­ways a tempta­tion to shoot the mes­sen­ger, but the Budget chair simply is de­liv­er­ing the mes­sage of the facts sur­round­ing the budget,” Ry­an said. “That’s really not Tom Price’s fault; that’s the budget’s fault.

“Tom is deal­ing with the law and the num­bers and the facts as they ex­ist,” he ad­ded. “And a lot of folks just aren’t pleased with that, and I un­der­stand.”

To Ry­an, Price’s work on the budget is a “per­fect ex­ample” of how he can “ad­vance con­ser­vat­ism” rather than merely give a “good speech,” and unite the vari­ous fac­tions of the con­fer­ence. Price voted for both of the budgets put for­ward.

“Tom was able to bal­ance the dif­fer­ent con­cerns in our caucus between de­fense hawks, budget hawks, and every­one in between, and he was able to get every­body to sup­port a budget, which is a very hard thing to do,” he said.

And even some of those who sup­port Scal­ise ac­know­ledge that the fight over his budget isn’t the be-all and end-all. For Flem­ing, who like Scal­ise rep­res­ents Louisi­ana, serving his own con­stitu­ents mat­ters most. “What he can do for us in Louisi­ana—that level of rep­res­ent­a­tion—is far more im­port­ant than the is­sue about his dif­fer­ence with Price on de­fense spend­ing,” he said.

Rep. Trent Franks, who iden­ti­fies as “one of the more com­mit­ted de­fense hawks,” says that both Scal­ise and Price are “truly Val­ley Forge Amer­ic­ans,” both com­mit­ted to “fisc­al san­ity” and na­tion­al de­fense.

“I am al­ways mor­ti­fied that we try to jux­ta­pose na­tion­al se­cur­ity and fisc­al se­cur­ity against each oth­er. They are crit­ic­ally in­teg­ral to each oth­er,” said Franks. “They are like two wings to an air­plane. You can’t fly without either of them.”

Al­though Franks won’t say who he’s sup­port­ing, when push came to shove, he—along with nearly every oth­er per­son in the 36-mem­ber Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee ma­jor­ity, voted for the plan backed by Scal­ise.