House Republicans rallied behind Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) during a closed-doors conference meeting Wednesday, at one point giving a standing ovation that briefly choked up their notoriously tear-prone leader.
In the absence of a long-term deal over how to fund the government for the remainder of the fiscal year, Republicans decided to hold a vote Thursday on the “Troop Funding Bill,” a one-week continuing resolution that cuts spending by $12 billion over that time period but ensures steady funding for the Defense Department through September 30.
This latest development in the ongoing spending debate is a very positive one for Boehner, as he seeks political leverage to press for greater cuts during negotiations with Senate Democrats and the White House.
Despite the fact that dozens of conservative and freshman members had pledged not to support another short-term spending measure, Republican leaders are confident they have the votes to pass the bill. “I don’t need one Democrat,” Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) told reporters after the meeting. Even Rep. Mike Pence (R., Ind.), one of the most vocal opponents of another short-term resolution, announced that he would support the bill because “the troops come first.”
The moves ratchets up pressure on Senate Democrats, who would for obvious reasons want to avoid the political fiasco of potentially causing a government shutdown by voting against the “Troop Funding Bill.” It is also a public refutation of Sen. Chuck Schumer’s repeated claims that the biggest gap in the negotiations “is not between Democrats and Republicans, it’s between Republicans and Republicans,” specifically the “extreme” Tea Party members.
It could even inspire a long-term deal that preempts the need for a vote on the short-term measure. Shortly after the announcement, White House officials reported that Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.) will meet with President Obama and Vice President Biden at the White House this evening to continue negotiations. Early in the day, White House press secretary Jay Carney had reiterated that a one-week spending bill was unacceptable to the administration, unless it was necessary to clear various procedural hurdles in the run-up to a final deal.
Following the GOP conference meeting, there was a palpable sense of unity among members — freshman and veteran alike — and signs that many would be willing to accept a long-term deal with significantly less than the $61 billion in spending cuts included in H.R. 1, the House-passed long-term spending bill, in order to move on to bigger issues like the debt ceiling and Rep. Paul Ryan’s 2012 budget. “I’m with the speaker on whatever deal he cuts,” said Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Ala.). “The big prize is the budget.”
Rogers said that the release of Ryan’s “bold” budget on Tuesday helped convince a number of freshmen to be more amenable to a spending compromise. “It helps a lot of the freshmen see the bigger picture,” he said. “A lot of them have never served in public office, much less the legislative arena. They’re getting a lot of lessons around here. They’re starting to get it.”
Rep. Jeff Flake (R., Ariz.) lashed out at a recent report that members had applauded Speaker Boehner in a conference meeting on Tuesday when he mentioned that government shutdown was likely. “That’s not true at all,” Flake said. “Very few if any members desire to have a shutdown. We’re trying to avoid it.”
Rep. Tim Scott (R., S.C.), who represents the freshman class on the GOP leadership team, indicated he would be willing to accept a compromise short of H.R. 1, perhaps somewhere in the $40 to $50 billion range. He acknowledged that the Democrats’ offer of $33 billion in spending cuts was a “good place to start.”
“We’re one of three levers that creates a spending package,” Scott said, pointing out that $40 billion, the counteroffer Boehner delivered to Democrats yesterday, would be nearly 70 percent of the way to $61 billion. Given those circumstances, Scott said $40 billion was “not a bad deal.”
While Boehner himself acknowledged that members were mostly in agreement on the need to get the CR debate over with quickly in order to tackle the larger issues, and cited “some progress” in the talks with Senate Democrats, he told reporters he would continue to press hard for more cuts and inclusion of many “policy riders” as part of any deal.
“It would be easy to just fold your cards and go home,” Boehner said. “That’s not what the American people elected us to do.”
— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin Fellow.