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Now that House Republicans have their 2012 budget proposal to rally behind, many in the rank and file are suddenly less interested in engaging in a protracted fight over government spending levels for the next six months.
Several Republicans said the budget plan released earlier this week puts the country’s larger fiscal challenges in focus with provisions such as changes in entitlement spending, and that Congress must stop dwelling on short-term trims to the budget.
“I think it has shifted the debate,” Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-N.C.) said.
But the change in sentiment among Republicans, who for weeks have eagerly clashed with Democrats over squeezing billions out of the current budget, has not been clearly reflected in the negotiating positions taken by Speaker John Boehner. Throughout the week, the Ohio Republican has been insistent that the final continuing resolution of this year, which would fund the government through September, carry no less than $40 billion in cuts.
Still, some like McHenry said they are eager to move on to the 2012 budget, especially with an April 15 deadline set by law for passage of the next year’s budget, and a recess scheduled to begin soon after.
Five-term Rep. Mike Rogers said next year’s budget has given freshmen, who earlier balked at GOP leaders’ initial proposal seeking $32 billions in cuts, much-needed perspective.
“It helps a lot of the freshmen see the bigger picture,” the Alabama Republican said. “A lot of these freshmen have never served in public office, much less in the legislative arena. This helps them understand the bigger picture that a lot of us who have been around a long time have already understood.”
Rogers said the freshmen are “starting to get” that as legislators House Republicans are just one part of one-third of the federal government and that they need to “educate their citizens like they’ve gotten educated here” that the final CR will be historic because it cuts federal spending so substantially. He said they are starting to see the need to look forward to the budget.
Rep. Tim Scott acknowledged that having a budget filled with spending cuts gives political cover for freshman Republicans, who promised to bring change and fiscal discipline to Washington, D.C., to support a CR that is less aggressive in its spending cuts.
“If you’re looking for cover, this budget of $4 trillion or $6 trillion of spending cuts in the next 10 years is a great place to start,” the South Carolina Republican said. “But if you’re looking for ways to change the way we approach spending and the economy, you have to make sure all these roads lead to the debt ceiling.”
This shift in rhetoric came just a day after House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan introduced a budget plan that includes $4.4 trillion in deficit reduction over the next decade. It also cuts $1.8 trillion in taxes, with top rates cut to 25 percent for individuals and corporations.
Senate Republicans reacted favorably to the Wisconsin Republican’s bill for moving the debate forward.
Sen. Richard Burr, who remains close to Boehner after serving with him in the House, said the Ryan budget “makes it easier to find the cohesiveness within the Republican Party,” but he expects the Speaker to stick to his guns in talks with Democrats on the CR.
“If you’re going to get on a glide path to where we need to be long-term, you can’t keep punting this down the road, even for six months, and I think John recognizes that,” the North Carolina Republican said.
Lawmakers have until midnight Friday to come to an agreement or face a government shutdown. Boehner said Wednesday afternoon that House Republicans would move forward with a one-week stopgap bill today that would cut $6 billion from the budget while funding the Defense Department through September. Senate Democrats have insisted that this measure is a non-starter; however, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier this week that the Senate may choose to amend the one-week bill.
Boehner and Reid were meeting with the White House late Wednesday night.
Boehner’s public positions on the CR haven’t reflected that he’s as eager to settle the issue quickly as some in his party. One GOP lawmaker said Boehner privately acknowledges the budget plays into passing the CR but added, “It’s important that Boehner can’t be perceived to be messaging on it.”
Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, said in an email that the Speaker is maintaining a consistent message publicly and privately: “Boehner has said that we need to finish last year’s business — the FY 2011 spending — because we have bigger fights to come: Chairman Ryan’s budget and the cutting spending to pass the debt-limit increase.”
And even with many lawmakers ready to cut a CR deal, still others are holding out for maximum cuts wherever they can find them. “I’m not more likely to vote for something that I otherwise would not vote for because of a rush to get to the budget,” freshman Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) said.
Rep. Doug Lamborn agreed. He said the CR remains critically important.
“I don’t think anyone can put their guard down and become complacent,” the Colorado Republican said. “If we’re not perceived as sticking to our principles, it won’t help us in future negotiations with the Senate, especially on the debt limit.”
“If we throw in the towel on the CR, that doesn’t send a very good message,” he added.
Steven T. Dennis and Kathleen Hunter contributed to this report.