Former House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) on Sunday said lawmakers who have not signed onto Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the budget lacked “courage” and could be targeted by the conservative tea party movement as a result.
Armey’s comments on NBC’s “Meet the Press” came just moments after Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sidestepped a question about Ryan’s plan, which looks to balance the budget by reinventing slimmer versions of Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the tax code. Ryan (R-Wis.) is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee.
Ryan’s proposal is controversial for many Republicans who have attacked Democrats over their handling of the federal debt but don’t want to say that they would favor cutting entitlement programs.
“All Paul Ryan is saying is let Social Security be voluntary, let Medicare be voluntary,” Armey said. “The fact that he only has 13 co-sponsors is a big reason why our folks are agitated against the Republicans as well as the Democrats — the difference between being a co-sponsor of Ryan or not is a thing called courage.”
Armey, chairman of the limited-government group FreedomWorks, has been one of the most vocal advocates for the anti-tax tea party movement since it began in 2009.
“We are saying to the Republican Party, you know, get some courage to stand up for the things that are right for this country,” he said. “Don’t stand there and hide from the issue because you are afraid of the politics. The issue of public policy that governs the future of my children is more important than your politics, and if you can’t see that we’ll replace you.”
McConnell, who appeared on the segment before Armey, praised the tea party movement and its dedication to the debt issue.
“I think it’s entirely positive,” he said. “It’s an indication of broad public support for doing something about too much spending and too much debt.”
The top Senate Republican added that the tea party could only help Republicans in the fall, even though several tea party candidates have defeated Republican establishment favorites in the primaries, including one in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky.
“I think it has been extremely helpful,” McConnell said. “It’s produced a lot of excitement in our primaries, and I think it’s going to produce victories in November.”
McConnell and Armey also addressed controversial plans to build a mosque and cultural center near ground zero in New York City, saying that the location in lower Manhattan is inappropriate.
Asked about a recent Pew Research poll that showed one in five Americans wrongly believe that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, McConnell said he doesn’t doubt Obama.
“The president says he’s a Christian,” he said. “I take him at his word.”