As the fight over how to fund the federal government through the end of September enters its ninth week, House Republicans are fatigued with the bitter war and are increasingly vocal about how other crucial issues are going unattended.
GOP lawmakers and aides said that while they are not ready to abandon the fight over a six-month continuing resolution, they are nevertheless itching to take up other issues, including a new budget bill, the debt limit, gas prices and the situation in Libya.
Lawmakers said the biggest problem has been the all-encompassing nature of negotiations on the CR, which has monopolized Congress’ time and limited the GOP’s ability to pursue its broader agenda.
“I think focusing on the CR is just one part of it,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said. “We also have the budget resolution that will take a longer-term, more systemic approach to the budget.”
Rep. Tim Scott, a freshman member of GOP leadership, agreed, saying the CR debate cannot be a defining moment for House Republicans.
“I don’t know that this is a defining moment for anyone,” the South Carolina lawmaker said. “We haven’t even gotten to the whole budget, and we haven’t had the debt limit vote. We’re heading toward defining moments, but we aren’t there.”
Aides pointed to last week’s closed-door Conference meeting as evidence that CR fatigue has set in. Speaker John Boehner (Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) and other Members spoke at length about the ongoing CR discussions. But after opening the meeting to comments from rank-and-file Members, instead of being peppered with questions or comments on the spending talks, the bulk of the remarks were on Libya.
“We need to be devoting some time to exploring this. ... At some point we need to look at, are we going to be so focused on funding through Sept. 30, or do we need to look at ‘Did the president just commit us to a third theater?’” one aide said, adding that gas prices and the larger budget need attention as well.
Energy issues also have been pushed to the back burner, despite pressure from constituents to address soaring gas prices, as well as the work being done by the Energy and Commerce Committee. That panel has tackled a range of issues in hearings, covering everything from consumer product safety to the health care overhaul to nuclear safety in the wake of the tragedy in Japan.
“Some of their work is being overshadowed by the CR debate,” a senior aide said.
Members this week should begin to get at least some respite from the monotonous slog of the CR war, thanks to the decision of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) to unveil his fiscal 2012 budget proposal. But even that will only be a partial break since the core issues of the CR debate — spending and deficit reduction — will carry over into that fight.
So far, Members are taking leadership’s focus on the CR in stride, even if it is becoming increasingly tiring.
“Nobody is talking about fighting the current fight any less,” a leadership aide said. Nevertheless, “this other stuff is too important to get lost,” the aide cautioned.
Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans continued their halting negotiations Monday on the CR, with both sides hardening up their public positions even as they entered the final leg of talks.
On the public front, both sides continued to take rhetorical shots at one another. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) shot first, charging in a floor fight that despite progress, “Republicans and the tea party continue to reject reality and insist instead on ideology. ... The Republican Party and the tea party need to admit what Democrats have proven and what the country already knows: That neither party can pass a budget without the other party, and neither chamber can send it to the president without the other chamber.”
Reid added: “Democrats stand ready to meet Republicans halfway, and the Senate stands ready to meet the House halfway. We hope our partners on the other side are willing to be just as reasonable.”
Republicans responded in kind, accusing Reid of putting the negotiations in jeopardy. “Sen. Reid is attempting to abuse the budget process and limit the ability of Appropriations negotiators to complete their work — dictating the use of gimmicks and phony accounting to sneak more spending through the Congress and by the American people,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement.
But behind the scenes both sides were struggling to bring along their rank and file.
For instance, Boehner on Monday night was scheduled to meet with his Conference members to update them on the status of the negotiations.
Democratic leaders also had their own problems.
While much has been made about House Republicans’ unwillingness to settle for $33 billion in cuts, Congressional Democrats are also in upheaval over how deep the proposed cuts would slash the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, as well as foreign operations funding levels, according to a House Democratic leadership aide.
Anna Palmer and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.