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House Republicans are trying to recover their legendary discipline ahead of a defining battle on raising the debt limit.
The effort comes following unprecedented GOP defections last week on a compromise proposal brokered by Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) to fund the government for the next six months, a vote that exposed fractures within the Conference over how far the House GOP should push for spending cuts and fiscal reform.
Fifty-nine Republicans voted against the agreement that cuts $38.5 billion from the rest of this year’s budget, forcing House Republicans to rely on Democrats to pass the bill.
Despite the setback, Republican leaders late last week rallied their rank and file to vote in favor of a controversial and ambitious 2012 budget proposal that could leave many of them exposed on the campaign trail.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) told reporters after a closed-door Conference meeting Friday that House Republicans are on the same page.
“We are united in cutting spending. We are united in promoting growth and we are united in the fact that we don’t believe that we should be raising taxes in this tough economy,” Cantor said. “All of these things I think set us apart from members in the caucus on the other side of the aisle.”
Republicans easily passed the budget legislation 235-193 on a party-line vote Friday with just four GOP lawmakers opposing the bill.
Still, with an even larger and more significant fight over raising the debt ceiling on the horizon, Boehner’s ability to take a hard line with Democratic negotiators remains in question.
“I think any time we have defections it lessens the Speaker’s bargaining position because people think, ‘Oh, they can’t pass something,’” Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said.
Rep. John Kline agreed.
“Obviously you are in a stronger position if you can control the outcome in your own party,” the Minnesota Republican said.
While Republican leaders struggled, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer displayed his power to deliver Democratic votes. At Republican leaders’ request, the Maryland Democrat orchestrated two waves of roughly 40 Democratic “yes” votes on the continuing resolution after it was clear that Republicans could not pass the bill on their own.
In an interview with Roll Call, Hoyer said that while the spending bill did not reflect his priorities, it was “something that needed to pass in order to keep the government operating, and it was clear to me we weren’t going to get a better [agreement] by just delaying.”
While House Democrats, and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) in particular, were noticeably absent from the negotiations, Hoyer said the group will play a pivotal role “on a case-by-case” basis going forward.
House Democrats said they believe the debt limit will be another opportunity for Hoyer.