Republican presidential hopefuls courting South Carolina's early primary voters on Saturday praised the GOP brinksmanship on the federal budget, but said more work is ahead.
Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich had a been-there, done-that perspective. He said the budget deal carving $38 billion from annual spending is a "step in the right direction and it sets the stage for another series of very tough negotiations."
Gingrich, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum made speeches at local GOP conventions in Greenville and Spartanburg counties.
Barbour said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner "took this as far as he could go. He made real savings, real cuts and now he's ready strategically to move onto the debt extension."
Barbour and Gingrich said that's the next chance Republicans have to force votes on policy and spending issues. After Friday's late-night deal, Republicans have "very much increased leverage," Barbour said.
Nonetheless, Gingrich said the showdown could have been avoided if the spending bill had been broken into components. With that approach, the disagreements could have been narrowed. "To the degree you can find ways to narrow the consequences, it gets to be a little more manageable, I think," Gingrich said.
The federal spending negotiations wrapped up just before a threatened government shutdown. The final deal included a provision to ban federal or local government funds use for abortions in the District of Columbia as well as requiring a Senate vote on continued funding for Planned Parenthood.
Santorum, one of the developing 2012 field's most outspoken abortion opponents, said that was the right kind of fight to have.
"You don't see very many Republican leaders over time actually fighting over social conservative issues on a scale like we've seen here," Santorum said. "But it's a first step and it's just a first step."
Unlike Santorum and Gingrich, Barbour has yet to commit to return here May 5 for the Fox News "First in the South" presidential primary debate.
Barbour, still trying to decide if he has the fire to run, said he's encouraged by the response he gets from South Carolina crowds and elsewhere. "Before I make a final decision, I'm going to make sure that I feel the call strongly enough and got enough fire in the belly that I'm ready to make a 10-year commitment, which is what this is," Barbour said.
Barbour told the crowds that President Obama administration's policies were making it tough to grow the economy. "Its energy policies are to drive up the cost of energy so Americans will use less of it," Barbour said. "Now, that's not energy policy, that's environmental policy."
Gingrich pitched tax policy changes, including eliminating capital gains and inheritance taxes while allowing businesses to write off investments in one year. "If we had zero capital gains, the amount of money invested in this country would explode," Gingrich said. With a 100 percent write-off on equipment, he argued, companies could "buy the newest equipment in the world, give our workers the best competitive advantage and make sure we're the most productive people."
Santorum, who has logged 14 South Carolina visits, came away with the day's prize. He easily won the Greenville GOP's straw poll with 31 percent of the vote. Gingrich was a distant second at 14 percent. Barbour was a distant sixth with 5 percent.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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