Showdown or Shutdown? GOP Wants a Real Budget
Policy + Politics

Showdown or Shutdown? GOP Wants a Real Budget

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The House and Senate are gearing up this week to pass yet another short-term spending bill to keep the government operating, but it may not be quite so easy this time. There is growing frustration among some conservative freshmen and veteran lawmakers who reluctantly went along with the two-week stopgap spending measure and are threatening to vote against another one.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, chairman of the Republican Study Committee and one of the top conservatives in the House, says he opposes this piecemeal approach to authorizing spending and wants more cuts, including a ban on federal funding for Planned Parenthood. “We must do more than cut spending in bite-sized pieces,” Jordan said in a statement Monday. More than half of the Republican Conference are members of the RSC, and Jordan’s move adds pressure for other conservatives to oppose the bill.

“The repeated stopgap funding resolutions have
taken a toll on federal agencies, creating
unpredictability, hampering workforce productivity and
potentially harming the nation.”

At least five other conservatives including Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., leader of the House Tea Party caucus, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., Rep. Jeff Flake R-Ariz., Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL., have pledged to vote against it because they favor a longer term budget plan and say Congress needs to turn its attention to bigger goals such as the President’s 2012 budget and the delicate maneuver over the debt ceiling.

With the spending war raging on Capitol Hill, federal agencies are feeling the stress of the budget impasse. They have been limping along on temporary funding for the past five months facing an uncertain budget picture. Some agencies have pointed to delays in long term research projects, hiring freezes, large backlogs of services to the public; others have stopped signing new and existing contracts that could save the government money, said Max Stier, president of Partnership for Public Service. “The repeated stopgap funding resolutions have taken a toll on federal agencies, creating unpredictability, hampering workforce productivity and potentially harming the nation,” Stier said.

Securities and Exchange Commission Chair Mary Schapiro and Department of Defense Secretary Robert Gates have been outspoken about the impact of the unpredictable budget on their agencies. “The budget impasse is keeping the agency from improving its market surveillance capabilities, which have been severely limited by our lack of technology,” Mary Schapiro said at several Senate and House hearings on SEC spending last week. Republicans have proposed slashing $25 million over the next six months. Schapiro said implementation of these cuts would force staff furloughs, put the brakes on technology upgrades and block implementation of Dodd-Frank Act rules.

Gates has warned that the temporary funding measures are threatening military readiness and restrictions on spending “may soon turn into a crisis.” But many lawmakers are far less concerned about bureaucratic headaches than getting overall spending for domestic programs down.

The last thing we want to do is become like [former
Democratic Speaker] Nancy Pelosi in the last Congress,
where it was ‘my way or the highway.’”

Some Republican members have come out swinging against the conservatives in their own party who vowed to oppose the temporary spending bill that is essential to keep the government running past Friday, creating an intraparty tug-of-war over just how much to cut from the federal budget.

“The extreme wing of the Republican Party is making a big mistake with their flat-out opposition to a short-term continuing resolution,” freshman Rep. Michael Grimm, R-NY., said in a statement. “They’re not looking at the big picture, and the last thing we want to do is become like [former Democratic Speaker] Nancy Pelosi in the last Congress, where it was ‘my way or the highway.’”

No one is seriously expecting a major budget impasse that potentially could lead to a government shutdown, but the opposition reflects a growing body of disgruntled Republicans. Clearly House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are finding it increasingly difficult to hold in check conservatives who are demanding deep cuts in this year’s programs as the price for their continued support.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor acknowledged the growing impatience among his colleagues at a press conference with reporters on Monday. “There is a lot of frustration with the inability of this place to produce results,” Cantor said. “Right now we are trying to position ourselves so that we can ensure no government shutdown but continue cutting spending and to reach a result that I think we can get a majority of members to go along with.”

The latest measure is the sixth piecemeal spending measure or “continuing resolution” since the start of fiscal year 2011 last Oct. 1, bringing the total cuts in government programs to $10 billion that Congress and the president have enacted over the past several weeks. The latest measure awaiting Congressional action includes another $6 billion of cuts, and would keep the government operating through April 8. The House is expected to vote on the new measure Tuesday and then send it on to the Senate for approval before it lands on President Obama’s desk.

This action comes on the heels of the Senate’s rejection of two long-term government funding proposals — one from Republicans and one from Democrats. The Senate rejected a House-approved Republican bill that would cut $61 billion from fiscal 2010 levels (or $100 billion when measured against the fiscal 2011 Obama budget request) in a 44-56 vote along partisan lines. Then Senators rebuffed by 44-58 a bill proposed by Sen. Dan Inouye (D-Hawaii) that would cut $51 billion when measured against the fiscal 2011 budget request. Inouye chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

House Republican leadership escalated their attacks on Senate Democrats and the White House Monday for failing to compromise on a solution for a long term budget plan. “The House has passed a funding bill for the rest of the year that cuts spending to reduce uncertainty and help the private sector create jobs,” Michael Steel, spokesperson for Boehner, told The Fiscal Times. “But the Democrats who run Washington are insisting on the status quo — the same government spending binge — and that just isn’t acceptable to the American people.”

“We are hopeful that this will be the last time we have to engage in a stopgap measure,” Cantor told reporters. “We would like to see this resolved. We’ve not seen any indication as to where the President is and in fact we have not seen the Senate able to pass a measure that garners 60 votes, as we saw last week.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid fired back. “The distance between Democrats and Republicans is not measured only in money,” he said in a statement. “I regret to report that so far, we remain far more divided on the willingness to compromise.”

Related Links:
Freshman Slams Classmates for Risking Shutdown (POLITICO) 
Conservative Bloc Leader to Oppose Bill with ‘Bite Sized’ Cuts (The Hill) 
Sen. Marco Rubio to Oppose Short-Term Budget Bill (USA Today)