For a second time this month, Congress faces a weekend deadline to negotiate a stopgap funding measure to keep the federal government open. And as recently as Sunday, it appeared to be a relatively light lift. House Republican leaders and Senate Democrats have signaled support for a three-week continuing resolution that would trim $6 billion in discretionary spending cuts and keep the lights on until April 8, buying time for negotiators to hammer out a pact that covers the remainder of the fiscal year.
And yet, nothing comes easily on Capitol Hill. With Tea Party leaders brandishing pitchforks and conservative legislators bristling at incremental cuts, several GOP lawmakers broke ranks with party bosses on Monday, raising questions about whether the measure, which is expected to be brought to the floor Tuesday, could succumb to a Republican revolt. “There could be enough ‘no’ votes to kill it,” admits a House Republican aide, whose boss has not decided whether to support it.
The CR, rolled out Friday by House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers of Kentucky, cuts $3.5 billion through a combination of rescissions, funding reductions and program closures. The targets range from pandemic programs to construction and Census projects. In general, they’re noncontroversial; many were selected because they weren’t funded in President Obama’s budget request or the CR proposal put forth by Senate Democrats earlier this month. The remaining $2.5 billion in savings comes from slashing earmarks. Nearly all agencies would remain open at last year’s levels, pending a longer-term pact.
Republicans aligned against the bill for different reasons. Jim Jordan, who helms the conservative Republican Study Committee–a coalition that comprises about two-thirds of the conference and is a good barometer of conservative sentiment–said he wouldn’t vote for another piecemeal bill, and was dismayed that the measure didn’t slash funding to conservative bugbears like health-care reform and Planned Parenthood. “We must do more than cut spending in bite-sized pieces,” he said. Republican freshmen Tim Huelskamp and Allen West–as well as Jeff Flake, who’s bidding for the Senate seat that Jon Kyl will vacate–are among the other c0nverts to the “no” column.
Meanwhile Michele Bachmann, who voted against the original CR, is working to stoke opposition, telling conservatives that the vote is “our mice or men moment.” (Bachmann’s bone of contention is that the bill does not defund “Obamacare,” but as Rogers pointed out, this isn’t within the rules of a CR. If you recall, it’s the same explanation he gave to colleague Steve King two weeks ago.) Conservative organizations like the Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation also urged Republicans to reject the proposal.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who supports the measure, acknowledged that he has an “interesting challenge” on his hands. In a post to Redstate.com, Florida’s freshman Senator Marco Rubio said Congress “can no longer afford to nickel-and-dime [its] way out of the dangerous debt America has amassed.” Rubio, who like Jordan voted for the first two-week CR, joins fellow Senate freshman Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky in opposing a stopgap fix.
At least one Republican condemned his peers’ position. “The extreme wing of the Republican Party is making a big mistake with their flat-out opposition to a short-term continuing resolution. They’re not looking at the big picture,” said freshman Michael Grimm from New York, who hails from a swing district that encompasses Staten Island and part of Brooklyn. “I know that there is some opposition to working with Senate Democrats from the extreme right of the tea party who would rather see a government shutdown than pass a short-term solution; however, as long as we continue to cut spending each time, we are keeping our promise to the American people to reduce the deficit and fix the economy.”
It’s difficult to gauge the whip count, but there’s no sign yet that the rumblings of discontent will coalesce into a full-scale revolt. Still, a vote that looked set to sail through to the Senate is suddenly looking much iffier.