House Republicans, particularly freshman and conservative members, appear to be digging in for a bitter battle with Senate Democrats on spending.
“I think this is the moment to pick a fight with liberals in the senate,” Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.) told reporters on Monday. “We’re not going to change the direction of spending in Washington D.C. without a fight.”
Members will meet in conference tomorrow morning before voting on a short-term continuing resolution that would keep the government running through April 8, cutting spending by $6 billion in the process. It is the second short-term spending bill proposed by the 112th Congress, and for some Republican members, that is at least one too many.
When the three-week resolution was unveiled on Friday, it was viewed by many with a sigh of relief, knowing that a government shutdown would once again be averted, however temporarily. But then a number of prominent conservative groups issued statements in opposition to the bill, urging Republicans to vote no.
Chris Chocola, president of Club for Growth, warned that conservatives were “walking into a spending trap” by continuing to enact short-term spending resolutions, and be demanding much more from Democrats in terms of significant, structural spending reforms. Michael Needham, CEO of Heritage Action, concurred. “If we blink now and allow the proponents of big government to drag out negotiations,” he said, “it will undercut our ability to fight for conservative policies and result in fewer reforms and less cuts.”
Other groups like the Family Research Council and Susan B. Anthony List objected on the ground that the short-term bill included funding for Planned Parenthood, something that the GOP’s long-term spending bill, H.R. 1, would have eliminated.
When members returned to Capitol Hill on Monday, it was clear that some had gotten the message. Several Republicans came forward to announce they would be voting against the short-term CR, most notably Rep. Jim Jordan (R., Ohio), the chairman of the Republican Study Committee, who has considerable influence among freshman and conservative members, as well as Rep. Tom Graves (R., Ga.), a ’freshman in spirit’ and member of the GOP Whip team.
Many of those who spoke out were actual freshmen, including Reps. Tim Huelskamp (R., Kan.), Jeff Duncan (R., S.C.), Allen West (R., Fla.) and John Fleming (R., La.). “We were elected to make bold changes to federal spending and to reverse our unsustainable deficits,” Huelskamp, the first to declare his opposition, said in statement. “By allowing President Obama and Senator Reid to stall a budget they should have completed 6 months ago, we are being distracted from even bigger tasks: tackling the $1.1 trillion deficit in the President’s reckless 2012 budget and negotiating real budget reform, such as a balanced budget amendment, within a debt ceiling debate.”
For their part, GOP leaders acknowledged the frustration among House Republicans at the lack of results on a longer-term spending solution for the seven months remaining in the fiscal year, but played down suggestions of a rift within the party. At a joint press availability Monday afternoon, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters that all Republicans were fed up with Senate Democrats’ refusal to engage seriously in negotiations (Democrats accuse Republicans of a similar charge) and said they “hoped and intended” that there would be no more short-term resolutions after this one. “[Jim Jordan's] problem with the bill is, he wants to finish it,” McCarthy said. “That’s Jim’s frustration, that’s Eric’s frustration, it’s Kevin’s frustration.”
“Obviously there are a lot of other issues that we’d like to see dealt with in any kind of longer term solution,” Cantor said. “But right now we are trying to position ourselves so that we can insure no government shutdown, continue to cut spending and to reach a result that I think a majority of members can go along with.”
Rep. Graves said he decided to vote no after hearing from constituents over the weekend, and that he didn’t view opposition to the short-term bill as a vote against party leadership, but rather a message to Senate Democrats to get their act together.
“There are a lot of members voting yes, and several voting no for various reasons,” Graves, who was instrumental in leading the freshman “revolt” over the $100 billion cuts, told National Review Online. “The overarching message is: It’s time to move on. We need to get this done now so that we can get on to talking about 2012.”
“Leadership is doing everything they can to provide solutions to keep the government operating,” he added. “It’s time for the Senate get involved. We’ve passed the full 2011 CR [H.R. 1], they have a bill over there which they can work with.”
Pence wouldn’t say how he would vote on Tuesday, but said he had been speaking with his colleagues and giving them the following message: “There’s no point putting it off, let’s have the fight right now… House Republicans should say ‘this far and no further.’”
“I’ve been here in Washington for 10 years, and I’ve learned that more often than not things don’t change until they have to, until you reach an impasse then real negotiations begin,” he said. “I want to have that negotiation.”
A source close to the situation tells NRO that opposition to the bill was “definitely gaining momentum” and that more ‘no’ votes would be announced Tuesday morning. That said, the short-term resolution is still expected to pass the House, not least because a large number of Democrats will likely support it. The previous short-term resolution passed 335 to 91, with the help of 104 Democrats. It will then go to the senate, where freshman Republicans like Marco Rubio (R., Fla.), Mike Lee (R., Utah) and presumably several others, will vote in opposition, though Senate Minority Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the spending bill would, and should, pass the upper chamber.
Republicans aren’t the only ones clamoring for a long-term resolution. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.) said he’d vote for one more short-term bill and that’s it. At this point, the only thing the two sides can agree on is that the other side is to blame for the stalled negotiations. Neither side says they want to see the government shut down, but no one seems willing to budge any time soon. Even top White House officials are suggesting that a shutdown could be necessary to inspire real negotiations (as Pence suggested).
Hold on to your hats.