Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who bucked his party leadership during the midterm elections, was back at it again Tuesday night, saying he would not vote for the tax cut deal brokered between the GOP and President Obama because it increases the deficit.
“Most of us who ran this election said we were not going to vote for anything that increased the deficit. This does,” DeMint said, explaining his opposition to conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt.
It could be the beginning of the deal’s unraveling, if DeMint’s public break with the deal and with his party’s handling of negotiations with the White House prompts others in his party to turn against it as well, especially over the roughly $900 billion the deal adds to the deficit and national debt.
During the midterm elections, DeMint’s endorsements of Tea Party candidates in primaries against candidates favored by the Washington establishment angered many in his party. His words to Hewitt Tuesday are sure to set off a new round of recriminations within GOP circles.
DeMint appeared wary of being too tough on his party leaders, but was unapologetic in opposing the deal.
“I don’t want to second-guess my leadership, but frankly, I think we need to come away with a lot better than this,” he said. “We cannot increase the deficit, or keep increasing deficit spending.”
“So again, I’m trying not to be too hard on the people who’ve done this, but we’ve worked too hard, and Americans worked too hard to elect us.”
DeMint said the negotiating process should have been more open and inclusive of new lawmakers just elected, and even expressed a willingness to keep working on a deal into next year and allow taxes to go up on all Americans on Jan. 1.
“So it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if we pushed this whole things into next year,” he said. “There are a lot of people advocating for it, saying this is the best that we can get. But I’ve talked to a number of the conservatives today who have grave concerns. I know a lot of them won’t vote for it unless it’s paid for. I don’t think the Democrats are going to cut spending enough to pay for this.”
Here is a full transcript of Hewitt’s interview with DeMint, with an audio clip at the bottom:
HH: Pleased to welcome now to the Hugh Hewitt Show Senator Jim DeMint from South Carolina. Senator, always a pleasure, welcome back.
JD: Thank you, Hugh. It’s great to be with you.
HH: I’ve got some quick questions for you. The first is if the deal reached between the President and the Republican leadership yesterday makes it to the floor of the Senate in substantially the same form, will you vote for cloture to allow a final vote on it? And would you vote for it on that final vote if it cleared cloture?
HH: On both counts?
JD: On both counts. I’m glad the President recognizes that tax increases hurt the economy. I mean, I guess that’s progress. But frankly, Hugh, most of us who ran this election said we were not going to vote for anything that increased the deficit. This does. It raises taxes, it raises the death tax. I don’t think we needed to negotiate that aspect of this thing away. I don’t think we need to extend unemployment any further without paying for it, and without making some modifications such as turning it into a loan at some point. It then encourages people to go back to work. So there’s a lot of problems with it. I mean, and frankly, the biggest problem I have, Hugh, is we don’t need a temporary economy, which means we don’t need a temporary tax rate. A permanent extension of our current tax rates would allow businesses to plan five and ten years in advance, and that’s how you build an economy.
HH: Do you think a left-right coalition exists in either the Senate or the House to defeat the deal?
JD: Well, I was kind of holding my fire to let the liberals blast this thing first. I have a feeling that, I don’t know if it’s pretense or whatever, but a lot of the liberals are upset that the President is not raising taxes on upper income and small businesses. So I was going to try to see if the liberals might go after it first. But it does appear to me that there are going to be problems on the left and the right with this bill. And they’re going to, as they do with so many things here, Hugh, make it a Christmas tree. Harry Reid’s already trying to legalize online gambling using this tax agreement. That isn’t going to happen, but he is trying to work that through to give a payback to the gambling interests that helped elect him.
HH: Senator DeMint, you’ve got friends, I’ve got friends in the Republicans who negotiated this. But I am still shocked that it was such a surprise, and they did not consult widely, and they did not even involve the new members who were just elected. Are you surprised that the leadership went back to the failed model that brought us the Gang of 14 and the disastrous immigration bill of a few years ago?
JD: Well, you know, hesitate to pounce right on them and criticize them, because I wasn’t in the room doing the negotiation. And they may have felt after being there that this was the best we can do. Frankly, I don’t think the President is going to let us leave town without extending tax rates for at least the middle class. So I think we had a lot of leverage. I don’t want to second-guess my leadership, but frankly, I think we need to come away with a lot better than this. We cannot increase the deficit, or keep increasing deficit spending. So again, I’m trying not to be too hard on the people who’ve done this, but we’ve worked too hard, and Americans worked too hard to elect us. And like you said, I think our new members should have a say in what we’re doing here. So it wouldn’t hurt my feelings at all if we pushed this whole things into next year.
HH: Now is there a substantial number of Republican Senators who agree with you, Jim DeMint?
JD: I’m not sure yet. I mean, there are a lot of people advocating for it, saying this is the best that we can get. But I’ve talked to a number of the conservatives today who have grave concerns. I know a lot of them won’t vote for it unless it’s paid for. I don’t think the Democrats are going to cut spending enough to pay for this, because it’s getting close to $200 billion dollars in more deficit spending. So I think there’s going to be a lot of fallout on the Republican side, and I suspect even on the Democrat side, because they don’t want, I mean, they want taxes to go up, just not for their constituents.
HH: Now I know you’re loathe to talk about the other house, but you were a member of the House in the past, and I’ve just got to ask you. What do you think the reaction of the Tea Party is going to be to the elevation of Hal Rogers, a known big appropriator and earmarker, and Spencer Bachus, a critic of Sarah Palin to the chairmanship of appropriations and financial services, respectively?
JD: Well, I don’t think the response is going to be good. And I think we’ve got to be real careful here. I mean, there’s some good things happening, such as Paul Ryan being chairman of Budget, Dave Camp in Ways And Means, and these are real important committees. And so we’ve got some good minds on it. But frankly, the thing that killed the ’94 revolution was that you got a lot of new people came in, but the guys who’d been there forever took over the chairmanships of committees, and we went downhill from there. And so I don’t want to second-guess Boehner, and he’s not the one who makes all of these decisions. I like the fact they put Jeff Flake on appropriations. Hal Rogers may be sorry for the day he became chairman with Jeff on that committee. But I think we needed to show a little bit more light than what’s been shown so far, but I’ll let the Tea Party speak for themselves.
HH: Jim DeMint, always a pleasure, Senator. We’ll check in early and often during this interregnum in the lame duck, and of course in 2011.
End of interview.