The GOP’s Big Budget Tent?

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Slashing $100 billion from the 2011 budget may have appeased the Tea Party caucus and the freshman class, but it’s turning out to be not so comfortable for some Republican moderates.

On Monday New York Republicans Pete King and Michael Grimm sent Speaker Boehner a letter protesting cuts to transit security grants, the COPS program (though Rep. Anthony Weiner succeeded yesterday in restoring some money for this), Amtrak and the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). And yesterday Rep. Steven LaTourette announced he is offering an amendment that would cut the $100 billion across the board, rather than “picking winners and losers.” LaTourette is leading the moderate GOP Tuesday Group’s efforts to fix some of the cuts, including LIHEAP. Roll Call reported that thus far Rep. Walter Jones, a North Carolina Republican, and Energy Committee chairman Fred Upton have announced support for LaTourette’s measure.

The moderate concerns in the House are reflected in the Senate. There are many cuts in the bill that GOP senators have, in the past, come out against. LIHEAP is an important in the northeast. Already, a bipartisan group of 30 senators, including Republicans Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine and Massachusetts’s Scott Brown, sent a letter to President Obama protesting his planned 2012 cuts to LIHEAP. It’s hard to imagine them voting to cut the program in 2011 – though the winter’s almost over.

In the Federal Aviation Authorization bill on the floor in the Senate this week Arizona Republican John McCain tried to strip funding from the Essential Air Service program, which subsidizes rural airports. The House budget bill also strips that money. But Republican senators from rural states where small airports are important to the commerce, including John Thune of South Dakota and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, are moving to block the cuts. “I can say without any reservation that this amendment would create an economic and a transportation disaster for Alaska, including the loss of jobs, livelihoods and would potentially impact health and medical situations,” Murkowski said on the floor of the Senate.

As Mark Thompson noted yesterday, the House today voted to strip funding for the the second engine of F-35 aircraft – an engine the Pentagon repeatedly said it doesn’t need but members who had parochial stakes in manufacturing the plane — in Ohio and Massachusetts — have protected the engine in the past. Republican Senators Brown and Rob Portman of Ohio have the most to lose if the engine is cut. In response to the House cut, Portman reiterated his support for the engine. “As the Government Accountability Office has stated, and experience has shown us, more competition drives down costs in the long run, saving taxpayers money as we develop the military’s next generation fighter,” he said in a statement.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he plans to bring the House bill to the Senate floor as is. But while it’s easier for Boehner to pass a bill without moderates, it’s impossible for McConnell to get anything through without his entire conference and four Democrats. Not to mention, as minority leader McConnell doesn’t have control of the Senate floor. As it stands, McConnell is unlikely to get unified support from his conference for the House bill without significant adjustments, giving Senate Democrats an opening to negotiate with unhappy Republicans more modest cuts.

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