Senator Lugar a moderate? Not by a long shot.

Story Repair | By Heather Rogers |

Saying “no” to protecting domestic safety net programs

In the budget battles of 2011, Republicans generally sought deep cuts in domestic programs, especially safety net programs, and were opposed by most Democrats. Lugar voted uniformly with his party to cut programs dear to Democrats, including Medicare, Medicaid, children’s health insurance, and food stamps. When that year’s budget finally passed, the Democrats had given in to more than $40 billion in spending cuts. While it’s true that the final proposal was not acceptable to several of the most conservative Republican Senators, the deep cuts were satisfactory to a strong majority of Senate GOP members, with Lugar joining 31 of his Republican colleagues in support.

As pointed out by his now-victorious Indiana primary opponent, over the years Lugar voted to increase the debt ceiling (an act that, until recently, was considered routine). But in 2011, the Republican leadership decided to risk a first-ever default on United States government debt obligations, refusing to agree to an increase in the debt ceiling without the imposition of additional budget cuts totaling $2.5 trillion. At the time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that Republicans’ failure to raise the debt ceiling could result in a “full-fledged depression.” Senator Lugar, now described by Reid as, “one of the finest members of the Senate we’ve had, ever,” was part and parcel of what some editorials at the time identified as the fiscal “hostage-taking demands of Republican extremists.”

Last year, as he has done many times before, Lugar joined with the full Republican caucus in co-sponsoring a balanced budget amendment, the Cut, Cap and Balance Plan.

Earlier this week, the Senate voted on its version of Paul Ryan’s House budget plan, which was sponsored by Pat Toomey (R-Penn.). The bill, defeated by the Senate as a whole, but supported by Lugar, had proposed to spend $4.5 trillion less than Obama’s budget over 10 years, based overwhelmingly on spending cuts to entitlement and low-income programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, and non-defense discretionary spending.


Saying “no” to progressive taxation

There has been a long tradition of progressive taxation in the U.S., although taxes on the wealthy are significantly lower than they have been in the past. Lugar backs what he calls the FairTax, a proposal to eliminate individual, corporate, capital gains, estate, and Social Security and Medicare (payroll) taxes. These forms of taxation would be replaced by a 23 percent sales tax on consumer goods and services. Lugar’s website describes FairTax as “one simple and transparent tax at the final point of sale.”

In contrast, U.C. Berkeley Economist Brad DeLong has said the FairTax is profoundly anti-progressive — “a mammoth tax cut for the crowd making more than $200,000 a year and a substantial tax increase for those making between $30,000 and $200,000 a year” — and Majority Leader Reid has called the FairTax proposal “some of the worst legislation in the history of this country.”


Saying “no” to health care reform

Along with the full contingent of Senate Republicans, Lugar has steadfastly opposed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. He voted against it in the first instance, and has repeatedly advocated for its repeal, saying that “Obamacare is wrong for America and I believe it is unconstitutional.”

In January, Lugar signed on as a co-sponsor to the Repealing the Job-Killing Health Care Law Act, and in February, joined other Republican Senators in filing a series of “friend of the court” (amicus) briefs to the Supreme Court arguing that the law is unconstitutional.

Senator Lugar also favors undoing Obama’s health care initiative through budget mechanisms. The budget plan he supports (the Toomey bill) would, among other changes, repeal the Obama health care law, partially privatize Medicare, and turn Medicaid into a state-run block grant program. Five Republicans broke with their party to vote against the conservative Toomey budget, but Lugar voted in favor.


Saying “no” to effective unions

Lugar has consistently voted to constrain union power, including his opposition, along with all other GOP Senators, to the Employee Free Choice Act in 2009. That bill would have amended the National Labor Relations Act to give workers the option of forming unions by signing cards, commonly known as the “card-check” method, a procedure that pro-labor forces view as easing the process of unionizing by making workers less susceptible to employer intimidation. 

All forty Republicans in the Senate opposed the measure. And, given the threat of a Republican filibuster and that several in their own party opposed it, Democrats decided to drop the bill.

Lugar has also consistently resisted increases to the minimum wage. In one notable exception, in 1999, senate Republicans drafted a minimum wage bill, incorporating almost $19 billion in tax cuts. The senate GOP voted unanimously for the measure, which passed. That same day Democrats introduced their own version — with fewer tax cuts and faster implementation — which came just one vote shy of passage. Four Republicans, but not Lugar, supported that Democratic alternative.

In 2006, however, Lugar did break ranks and voted for a Democrat-sponsored minimum wage increase, the first increase in nine years.

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