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Arkansas senators say they will back budget bill

by Frank E. Lockwood | February 9, 2018 at 2:53 a.m. | Updated February 9, 2018 at 2:53 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- Arkansas' two U.S. senators said Thursday they will vote for a new budget agreement that dramatically increases federal spending.

The package would be an increase of roughly $300 billion over the next two years.

The four Arkansans in the U.S. House of Representatives, all Republicans, haven't said which way they're leaning.

Spokesmen for Reps. Bruce Westerman of Hot Springs, Steve Womack of Rogers and French Hill of Little Rock said the lawmakers were still studying the proposal.

Rick Crawford of Jonesboro did not respond to requests for comment left with his spokesmen and on his cellphone.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Dardanelle said passage of the legislation is a matter of national security.

"As threats gather around the world, our military has suffered from eight years of underinvestment. ... We simply cannot delay any more the increase to our defense spending," he said.

Asked if the spending package is fiscally responsible, Cotton portrayed it as a mixed bag.

"I certainly don't support every single provision in this bill but, on balance, the need for the increased defense spending and some of the other provisions, like the repeal of the Obamacare Payment Advisory Board, in my opinion, outweigh some of the excess spending on domestic matters or some of the other provisions," the junior senator said.

The national debt surpassed $20 trillion last year. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which opposes deficit spending, projects that the national deficit for fiscal 2019 will top $1 trillion.

Asked if the increased deficit spending threatens the nation's stability, Cotton said: "We need to get our fiscal house in order but we also need to remember that our military is not the cause of our deficits. If anything, our military helps protect our economy, allow it to be strong and healthy and generate the tax revenues that our government needs."

Republican Sen. John Boozman of Rogers highlighted the bipartisan nature of the agreement.

"This was the compromise," he said. "It's not like this was done over a matter of 24 hours. This is months and months of negotiation.

"We've had one government shutdown and people have finally come together," he said.

The package includes money for important programs, he said, including funds to fight opioid addiction, to provide disaster relief, to fund children's health care and community health centers, to strengthen the military and to assist veterans.

The bill also includes provisions that will help cotton farmers, he added.

Neglecting national defense and forsaking hurricane victims weren't options, he said.

"You simply have to increase military spending to get the mission accomplished and also to keep the people that are out there essentially fighting for us ... safe and keep them protected," he said.

Asked if the deficit spending poses a threat to the nation's stability and security, Boozman said: "It will at some point, if we continue down this path."

A Section on 02/09/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas senators say they will back budget bill


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