Republicans are ready to shut down the government to force real spending cuts, Sen. Harry Reid is an “idiot” and former Sen. Chuck Hagel should be rejected by the U.S. Senate as our next defense secretary, according to Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

The second-term GOP senator said many in his party reluctantly went along with the final “fiscal cliff” agreement, but Vitter insists there is a clear line in the sand.

“It wasn’t the overall bill I would have drafted if I were king for the day because it didn’t include major spending cuts and reforms, and that’s what we need to do. That’s what we’re turning toward hopefully now,” said Vitter concerning the aftermath of the fiscal cliff deal. “I know people are tired of hearing about showdowns, but the next big showdown is going to be about spending because that’s the fundamental problem and the fundamental challenge which has led to these unsustainable levels of debt.”

Vitter said lawmakers are keenly aware of the debt-ceiling debate that will have to happen by early March, and he said President Obama’s goal of quietly hiking the ceiling is a fantasy.

“I don’t know any Republican who’s going to be in favor of even considering increasing that without huge spending cuts and reforms,” he said. “Certainly, that’s my position.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has said the GOP should be ready for a temporary partial government shutdown, and Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, backed the idea in an interview with WND last week. Sen. Vitter is also comfortable with that outcome if lawmakers don’t get serious on spending. And he said Americans should not fall for talking points on the political left suggesting that America will default in the government shuts down.

“We also need to make clear to the American people, we’re not talking about defaulting on our debt. That is a huge scare tactic,” said Vitter.

The senator also made headlines in the first days of the year for his rebuke of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Vitter referred to Reid as “an idiot” for suggesting that Hurricane Sandy victims have suffered much worse than Hurricane Katrina victims in his push for disaster relief legislation. Reid later said he misspoke, but Vitter said his assessment of the Democratic leader remains unchanged.

“We learned what I already knew about Harry Reid I think, that he is an idiot,” said Vitter. “The statement was just completely wrong factually wrong and idiotic. It was insulting to Gulf Coast residents who have been through a lot. Sandy victims have been through a lot. That was a horrible storm and horrible human toll. I’m not trying to compare storms, but that’s what Harry Reid brought up. He not only compared them, he got it absolutely wrong, because by every metric Katrina was the worst natural disaster we’ve ever endured as a country.”

The Senate disaster relief bill was panned in the House because of what the GOP perceived as egregious pork and unrelated money for special interests. Vitter said it’s important to get wasteful spending out of this and all legislation, and Senate Republicans tried unsuccessfully to root out unnecessary spending in the Democratic disaster relief bill.

Vitter said Sandy also revealed the many remaining deficiencies in the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. He said there are many improvements that could be made, but he said one great lesson from these storms is the value of pre-existing contracts between local government and contractors for debris clean-up. Vitter said that provides badly needed jobs in the wake of a disaster and greatly reduces the cost to taxpayers compared to negotiating a contract after a disaster strikes.

Vitter is also bracing for a fierce U.S. Senate fight over the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be defense secretary. Vitter is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will conduct the confirmation hearings. While some members remain on the fence over Hagel, Vitter isn’t one of them. He’s strongly opposed to the nomination.

“Unfortunately, it’s not just one or two stray comments. It’s a long history on his approach to the Middle East,” said Vitter, who offered a lengthy list of issues where he believes Hagel was badly in error. “He was one of only two senators who voted in 2001 against renewing the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act. He voted in 2007 against designating the Iranian Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization. He opposed the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act. He said publicly that an attack on Iran would be exactly the wrong idea. So at least in his own mind, he’s taken that off the table.”

Vitter said Hagel also has a history of criticizing the Israeli lobby, urging direct relations with Hamas and being very bullish on the Assad regime in Syria.

The senator vows vigorous questioning during the confirmation process but would not offer any predictions on the nomination.

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