No basking in victory over federal budget as Ky. Republicans steel themselves for next battle

04/10/2011 08:19 AM

LOUISVILLE — In the wake of a deal to keep the government open and cut spending, leaders in Kentucky’s Republican congressional delegation told supporters Saturday night they were pleased at some progress but far short of declaring victory.

U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, said to the 600 Republicans at the statewide Lincoln Day Dinner that the agreement to cut $38 billion from the rest of the fiscal year through September was “not a bad night’s work.”

“That’s just a first step,” McConnell said during his remarks at the Galt House.

President Barack Obama, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Republican House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio negotiated the deal late Friday night. Both chambers then voted on a temporary extension late Friday and early Saturday to keep the government open until they can approve the budget for the next five and a half months.

U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Bowling Green, said the House will vote Thursday on the measure covering the rest of the fiscal year.

But brewing now is a fight over what to cut next in the 2012 budget. And Congress also will have to decide whether to raise the debt ceiling. Currently, that cap stands at $14.2 trillion, and the next spending bill — with a more than $1.6 trillion deficit — will push the total debt well beyond that limit.

“We’re beginning to look a lot like Greece,” McConnell said of the United States’ debt. He said something must be done to restructure Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

And he said Republicans in the Senate will demand that Congress deal with those issues before taking up votes on the debt ceiling and next year’s budget

“There won’t be a single Republican vote in the Senate unless you do something about the debt. And you can write that down,” McConnell said.

Kentucky’s junior Senator, Rand Paul, went further to downplay the long-term significance of Friday’s budget deal.

“Did we win a little bit? I’m not positive. The more you look at the details, did we win anything?” he told the crowd of Republican supporters, donors, officials and candidates in the 2011 statewide elections.

Specifically, Paul said the budget deficit this year will now be $1.6 trillion, adding to the debt.

“We won the battle. We’re winning …” Paul said. “It’s all good — the direction we’re going — but it’s not enough.”

Guthrie said in an interview that most House Republicans wanted more than the $38 billion in cuts but were satisfied with the end result.

Twenty-eight Republicans ultimately voted against the continuation spending bill in the wee hours Saturday. But all four Kentucky Republicans – and the two Democratic House members from Kentucky – voted for the measure, which passed 348-70.

Saturday, the Galt House served as the epicenter of Kentucky politics.

Both U.S. Senators and two Republican congressmen — Guthrie and U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Hopkinsville — attended the dinner. All the candidates running in the May 17 primary for statewide constitutional offices also shook hands and handed out their candidate information throughout the evening, although they didn’t address the crowd.

And as the 600 or so Republicans began eating their field green salads in one ballroom, Democratic Secretary of State candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes took the mic to address several hundred county magistrates and commissioners at the ballroom next door.

“I know there are many good Democrats here tonight – and some good Republicans too,” she said to start her standard introductory campaign speech.

Earlier in the evening, it was peaceful confluence of forces within the GOP as tea party activists held a press conference to underscore their support for Louisville businessman Phil Moffett in the Republican primary for governor.

About 65 people attended the event, in which tea party leaders urged supporters to reject the “establishment.”

“The branding of a political party means nothing if there’s no substance behind it,” Moffett said.

Most of the tea party supporters did not attend the Republican Party’s dinner and chose instead to wave “Moffett for governor” signs outside the hotel.

The May 17 primary for governor includes Moffett, Senate President David Williams and Jefferson County Clerk Bobbie Holsclaw.

At the GOP dinner, Republican Governors Association chairman and Texas Gov. Rick Perry said the RGA is staying neutral in the primary but will back the nominee.

(For more highlights of the event, watch Pure Politics at 7 p.m. EST/6 p.m. Central on Monday. Our coverage will include an exclusive interview with Perry.)


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