Five Members of Congress to Watch In the Budget Showdown

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The House is expected to pass a stopgap measure on Tuesday to fund the government for the next two weeks while House and Senate negotiators work on a longer-term solution. Senate Democrats are still mulling over whether they want to pass the House bill or send it back with amendments, but it’s looking likely that something will pass both chambers and avert a government shutdown on Friday, when current funding is set to run out. Here are five people to keep an eye on this week and in the coming months as the debate over government spending plays out:

  1. John Boehner: The Speaker of the House seems to have won this round. His two-week continuing resolution paired with $4 billion in bipartisan cuts is a crowd pleaser with his GOP freshmen as it keeps the level of cuts on par with the 2011 budget the House passed last week.  Its contents are also calibrated to appeal to moderate Democrats. But this was just the first round. The Senate could amend his bill, forcing him to consider a new version. And in the long run, there are only so many bipartisan cuts to be made before the real debate about the size of the government begins. Boehner’s stopgap solution is popular and there’s a good chance Congress will need to do two or three of these before a permanent bill is passed. But Boehner’s challenge will be to press the Senate for deeper, long-term cuts or risk a rebellion from the feisty freshmen on his right flank.
  2. Harry Reid: Whatever happens this week, the Senate Majority Leader, unlikely to accept the long-term cuts the House has put forward, is looking for a compromise that can pass the Senate. He’s considering $24.7 billion in cuts suggested by President Obama in his 2012 budget, plus retroactively yanking funding for $8.5 billion in earmarks, according to the Associated Press. That would help him reclaim the upper hand and force responsibility of any potential shutdown on the GOP, but it’s not an easy task.
  3. Senator Claire McCaskill: The Missouri Democrat is one of 19 upper chamber Dems up for reelection this cycle. In all, Democrats hold 23 of the 33 seats being contested in 2012, many in Red States like Nebraska, North Dakota and Montana. Vulnerable Democrats, such as McCaskill, from more conservative states will be pivotal in deciding what will be slashed. If Republicans, who control 47 seats in the Senate, can swing enough moderate Democratic votes, they could force much deeper cuts than the progressive wing is comfortable with.
  4. Rep. Dennis Ross: Politico ranked the Florida GOP freshman as the representative most in line with the freshmen class as a whole – he voted with them 98.06% of the time. Where Ross goes, so go his 79 fresh-faced colleagues. This week they’ll be warily watching what Reid sends back to the House. And in the long run, they could revolt if the Senate’s proposals aren’t austere enough. The $33.2 billion in cuts Reid is said to be considering amounts to half of the $61 billion in cuts the House passed two weeks ago. Several Republican freshmen are openly saying that if they don’t get their way, a government shutdown might actually be healthy – that threat is their greatest bargaining tool.
  5. Rep. Mike Ross: The Arkansas Democrat is the head of the Blue Dog Coalition, or at least what’s left of them. The caucus lost more than half its members in the 2010 elections. But Blue Dogs still command more than 25 votes and those could come in handy if Boehner loses his freshmen. Many of them are expected to vote for Boehner’s stopgap measure. Whatever bill the Senate passes could also appeal to them. In a tight vote on long-term funding, these guys could make all the difference if the Republican party splits.
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