‘No and no.’ Why Georgia GOP Senate contenders oppose infrastructure, budget plans

The crowd was just beginning to break up at Senate candidate Gary Black’s campaign stop in Marietta on Wednesday when he was asked his stance on the dual infrastructure and budget proposals moving forward in Congress. Before the question ended, the Republican interjected: “No and no.”

The agriculture commissioner wasn’t alone in his opposition to measures that could top $4.5 trillion. The other two GOP Senate contenders, Kelvin King and Latham Saddler, also flatly rejected the proposals to restructure the U.S. economy as a mishmash of costly, damaging and opaque policies.

The infrastructure measure that passed the U.S. Senate with the help of 19 Republicans this week might have led to a momentary sense of bipartisan bonhomie in Washington; on the campaign trail in Georgia the reception brought a more familiar partisan clash.

The pair of proposals moving through Congress provide a fresh dividing line in the GOP race against U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, a first-term Democrat who hopes to make his support for the measures, along with his vote for a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package earlier this year, a focus of his reelection campaign.

In a Senate contest already full of gaping divides over voting rights, fiscal policy and pandemic approach, the two proposals offer another sharp contrast between the parties.

Warnock was an early supporter of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure, which promises to devote tens of billions of dollars to new roads, bridges, broadband pipelines and other infrastructure projects in Georgia.

U.S. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, right, and Senate Budget Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., helped push a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package through the chamber. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

He also backed a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint, adopted by the Senate early Wednesday, that would amount to the largest expansion of the nation’s social safety net since the 1960s. It would be financed in part by increasing the national debt and hiking taxes on the wealthy and corporations.

Combined, the two measures would touch just about every sector of the U.S. economy, unleash a wave of public spending toward initiatives to expand health care, combat climate change, bolster education spending, offer new child care options and increase internet access.

Warnock, who presided over the Senate before the final passage of the infrastructure measure, celebrated by detailing the spending headed Georgia’s way. As with previous votes, he credited Georgians for electing him and Jon Ossoff in January runoffs that flipped control of the chamber.

“Thank you, Georgia, for showing up to make this historical investment possible,” he said.

Warnock’s Republican opponents want to make sure he pays a political price for his votes. Black criticized what he framed as a lack of transparency in the early morning vote on the budget blueprint.

“No one knows what they’re voting on,” Black said. “We’re talking about categories of hundreds of billions of dollars, and people are showing up in the middle of the night. That’s not a vote I can cast. We’ve got to be more granular than that.”

The vote was the first step toward passing the proposal using a budget process called reconciliation that would allow it to bypass a filibuster and win passage in the Senate by a simple majority.

Taken together, Black said, the budget measures have ensured our “fiscal house is on fire.” Of the 19 Senate Republicans who crossed party lines to approve the infrastructure measure, Black offered a shrug.

“I have no earthly idea. They’ll have to answer to their voters,” he said. “This senator would have voted no.”

(Some Georgia Republicans have gone further. U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, a candidate for secretary of state, derided the package’s GOP supporters as “RINO Republicans!!!” on social media.)

U.S. Senate candidate Latham Saddler said spending proposed for a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package and a $3.5 trillion budget blueprint only “adds to our out-of-control mounting debt.”

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Saddler, a former Navy SEAL and White House official, said the spending only “adds to our out-of-control mounting debt.” And King, a construction executive, labeled the price tag of the proposals as “absurd.”

“Our elected officials have to stop talking about trillions like we used to talk about millions,” King said. “We are spending away our children’s future with no plan to pay for it.”

Other potential candidates have also pushed back. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter said the infrastructure plan devotes too little funding to roads, bridges and ports. Former U.S. Sen. Kelly Loeffler has called the measure “disastrous.” Herschel Walker has tied himself to former President Donald Trump, who has tried to derail the package.

U.S. Senate candidate Kelvin King described the combined cost of an infrastructure package and a budget blueprint working its way through Congress, in excess of $4.5 trillion, as “absurd.” (Photo: Nathan Posner for The Atlanta-Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

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Credit: Nathan Posner for The AJC

The staunch opposition comes even as local Republican officials endorse the new spending, saying it’s much needed for a range of priorities both big and small. Democrats are betting that even skeptical voters will side with them, particularly as they start to see construction rev up.

Dan Gottlieb of the state Democratic Party said the Republicans are lining up against “millions of good-paying jobs” that will help Georgians compete in the global economy.

“While Senator Reverend Warnock helps deliver this huge win for Georgia, every GOP candidate vying to challenge him is opposing the bipartisan plan to rebuild our infrastructure, invest in a generation of Georgia jobs and help American companies compete against China,” he said.

More from the Republican contenders:

Agriculture Secretary Gary Black:

“Our fiscal house is on fire, and I think it’s been set in all corners of the house. We’ve mortgaged our kids’ futures, and the futures of their grandchildren. And yet we don’t even know what we’ve spent the money on.”

Construction executive Kelvin King:

“As a conservative and a businessman, I have major concerns with the infrastructure bill and honestly the reconciliation package is simply absurd. Any time Bernie Sanders is getting his way we know the federal government has gone off the rails. Our elected officials have to stop talking about trillions like we used to talk about millions. We are spending away our children’s future with no plan to pay for it. I’m running to preserve the American dream for future generations and this just proves that one Senate seat can be the difference. It’s up to Georgia. This election, we have to win for America.”

Former Navy SEAL Latham Saddler:

“I support investments in our nation’s infrastructure, but I would vote “no” on this version of the infrastructure bill if I were the Senator representing Georgia. I can’t support something that will dramatically increase our national debt.

“This $3.5 trillion proposed budget only adds to our out-of-control, mounting debt which jeopardizes the dollar as the universal currency and threatens our children’s futures. This runaway liberal spending we are seeing out of Washington only helps adversaries like Communist China - who wants nothing more than to replace the dollar as the universal currency as they work to supplant us economically.”