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Schmitt says Congress needs to change spending mentality as another budget fight looms

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt celebrates winning the state’s open U.S. Senate seat against beer heiress and nurse Trudy Busch Valentine on Tuesday at a Midterm watch party at the Westport Sheraton Chalet in Maryland Heights.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt celebrates winning the state’s U.S. Senate seat in November 2022 at a watch party in Maryland Heights.

U.S. Sen. Eric Schmitt has more experience as a Missouri state senator than a U.S. senator, but after his first year in Washington, he says he’s seen a big difference with how Congress handles government funding.

During a wide-ranging interview Friday on The Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air, the Missouri Republican discussed the latest budget standoff. If Congress doesn’t act in the next week, there could be a government shutdown. Schmitt said he doesn’t like how his colleagues don’t vote on multiple bills funding the federal government, which is the standard for Missouri.

Schmitt said there’s bipartisan apprehension about the current process, which he said empowers leadership at the expense of the rest of Congress.

“I just don't think that's the way to do this,” Schmitt said. “I've been trying to be consistent about that, I think you can still affect the process. But until we fix that, I just think that if you just go along with the broken system, you're not really helping reform it.”

Some of the spending items Schmitt would like to reduce include unspent money that was allocated to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and hiring more IRS agents.

Asked whether more IRS agents could bring more revenue into the federal government, Schmitt replied: “That's the argument that the other side would use. But I just think you’d see this army of bureaucrats going out harassing small-business owners. I don't think that's ultimately how it plays out.”

Schmitt has also been critical of diversity, equity and inclusion programs in the Department of Defense and has pushed for legislation to abolish those offices in various federal agencies. He said DEI programs for the military have stifled recruitment efforts, even though the Pentagon inspector general said fear of death in combat plays a larger role.

“The idea that you would be sitting Marines in a room who have a mission to be lethal and protect this country, that you would be dividing them by oppressor and oppressed based on immutable characteristics, is wrong,” Schmitt said.

Wary on Ukraine funding

While Schmitt said it’s likely that the Senate would approve funding to help Ukraine’s fight against Russia, he’s not in favor of sending the country more military aid.

“My objection is that there's no articulation of what victory looks like. There's no articulation of how our European allies are going to step up. There's no articulation about accountability,” Schmitt said. “I just think that we should have a real debate about it, and we should have a vote on it. But I don't support blank checks for endless wars.”

Schmitt said European countries, such as Germany, should step up and provide more aid for the beleaguered country.

“Part of my problem is that the European allies who claim this as an existential threat, it's on their doorstep, and they haven't stepped up,” he said.

Support for Israel

Schmitt said that getting money to Israel is different, because the country has “a very clear articulation of what needs to happen and what they need and a timeline to get it done.”

“Everybody saw what happened on Oct. 7,” Schmitt said. “They need room in diplomatic space and moral cover from the United States to do what needs to be done to get rid of Hamas. If they aren't able to accomplish that, we’re just going to be dealing with this issue over and over.”

Asked if he was fearful that Israel’s operation in Gaza could become lengthy and open-ended — and result in the deaths of thousands of more civilians — Schmitt said that the country has every right to try to wipe out Hamas.

“I think ultimately, the head of the snake here is Iran,” Schmitt said. “And one of my big objections was releasing a lot of these dollars and not enforcing sanctions that allowed Iran to give Hamas money and Hezbollah money. And so I think we're going to have to deal with that.”

Other topics Schmitt discussed on the show included:

  • An exchange Schmitt’s former solicitor general John Sauer had with judges regarding former President Trump’s presidential immunity.
  • The potential of decriminalizing marijuana on a federal level, which is critical to remove restrictions on marijuana companies getting access to banks.
  • Bringing more health care options to rural parts of the state.
  • Whether Missouri’s ban on most abortions will make the state a less attractive place to live.

To hear the Politically Speaking Hour on St. Louis on the Air, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify or Google Podcast, or by clicking the play button below.

Sen. Schmitt says Congress needs to change spending mentality as another budget fight looms

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Ulaa Kuziez is our production intern. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org

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Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.