- The Washington Times
Sunday, March 1, 2020

Conservative activists sent a warning shot over the bow of the Trump administration this weekend, saying they understand why spending and deficits have risen over the past few years — but it’s time to reel them in.

An overwhelming majority in the CPAC/Washington Times poll, taken at the Conservative Political Action Conference, said it’s time to get back to fiscal discipline. They said the military spending increases and tax cuts that President Trump has promoted are fine but spending cuts are needed elsewhere.

Asked what one amendment they would want added to the Constitution, more activists chose a balanced budget amendment than any other option.

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“You just can’t keep spending money like it’s growing on trees,” said Douglas Platt, 57, from Rochester, New York.

The discontent over spending does not in any way diminish conservatives’ adoration of Mr. Trump, who, according to the poll, had a 95% approval rating. More than three-quarters said Republicans in Congress need to do more to support the president.

CPAC conservatives have accepted Mr. Trump‘s agenda as their own. They said construction of a border wall is their top priority, over more traditional policies such as advancing gun rights and pro life positions, or pushing school choice.

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Asked specifically what the top priority should be when it comes to immigration decisions, a stunning 68% of those polled said building the wall is the answer. Arresting illegal immigrants trailed far behind at 17%, followed by expanding legal immigration at 11%. Legalizing illegal immigrant “Dreamers” was the choice of just 3%.

CPAC attendees also cheered Mr. Trump‘s aggressive use of the military in the drone strike in Iraq that killed Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with 95% saying it was the right move.

When it comes to politics, the 1,336 people surveyed in the CPAC/Washington Times poll said the most dangerous candidate for Mr. Trump to face in November is Sen. Bernard Sanders, with 34% saying his democratic socialist candidacy is the president’s biggest challenge.

“He’s doing the best job of actually addressing the most basic needs for most people,” said Michael Sisco, 32, campaign manager for a Republican Senate candidate in Delaware. “His solutions suck, but he’s at least talking about the concerns of the majority of Americans, especially millennial, middle-America working-class people.”

The poll showed billionaire former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was the second most feared opponent, with 23% citing him as the top danger. Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden trailed in third at 9%.

Another 19% of the activists said they aren’t worried about any of the field of candidates.

Mr. Trump, speaking to the crowd Saturday afternoon, took his own informal survey. He asked the conservatives to applaud for the Democrat they thought he would beat more easily: Mr. Sanders or Mr. Biden.

The crowd picked Mr. Sanders.

Mr. Trump also joked that he had saved CPAC money on polling by taking his survey from the stage.

Where Mr. Trump has not saved money is in the federal budget, where he has shown a willingness to sign massive spending deals.

He and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, reached a deal last year to increase spending in 2020 and 2021. The Congressional Budget Office said the agreement deepened the deficit by $1.7 trillion over the next decade.

Where Mr. Trump has chosen to fight, it has been for more spending.

In late 2018, the president forced the government into its longest shutdown in history because he wanted more money for his border wall than Congress was giving him.

“We need to start bringing down the debt,” said William Trausch, 62, a bank worker from Cleveland. “I can understand some of the spending had to be done, but now’s the time to start reducing debt.”

The CBO projects the deficit this year will top $1 trillion for the first time in years and will remain through the rest of Mr. Trump‘s presidency.

Russ Vought, acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, told the activists that the White House takes spending seriously but isn’t getting help on Capitol Hill.

“We need Washington, D.C., to come alongside this president and be for fiscal responsibility, be for balancing their budgets, which is what every American family does pretty much every week and month,” Mr. Vought said.

He pointed to the president’s budget for fiscal year 2021, sent to Congress last month, which he said calls for $4.6 trillion in lower deficits. He said it showed “more deficit reduction than any president in history.”

The activists gave a smattering of applause.

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