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

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

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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.

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.

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