House Republicans are hoping the upcoming debate over the continuing resolution will indicate how hard-line their Members will be during future fights on the budget and the debt ceiling.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) has announced the CR will be considered under an open process — which allows Members to offer amendments — to fulfill the GOP pledge to reform Congress. But the move also serves a key tactical purpose for Cantor, Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.). The leaders are hoping votes on those amendments will provide them with intelligence on where the Conference stands on overall spending levels, where cuts should be focused and how deep they should go.
“You can learn a lot. It’s an open process and we can have dozens or hundreds of amendments — so where Members fall in terms of voting blocs,” a GOP aide familiar with the strategy said, adding that the conservative Republican Study Committee, moderate Tuesday Group and freshman class are all expected to offer scores of amendments to cut spending and set funding caps.
One GOP aide noted that while it is easy for Members to embrace fiscal conservatism on the campaign trail, it is far more difficult to exercise once they are elected, especially when it directly affects spending in their districts.
Using the CR as a test will allow leadership to better understand how committed Members are to far-reaching spending cuts . “How deep is that passion ... is going to be an interesting test,” the aide said.
The current CR, which keeps the government funded, expires on March 4, but House leaders have said they plan to take it up the week of Feb. 14.
Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring said the open process under which the CR will be considered will “empower [Members] to cut spending even more than the 2008 level that we pledged by offering their own amendments, many of which Leader Cantor will certainly support.”
“Once the House passes a CR at 2008 levels or beyond, Members on both sides of the aisle will have established a clear record: either to keep recklessly spending money we don’t have or to start the long overdue process of getting our fiscal house in order,” he added.
House floor votes are more often than not scripted affairs; parties largely vote in blocs. Votes were rarely considered under an open rule in the past couple of years, which one Republican aide suggested will make the CR debate all the more interesting.
A GOP leadership aide argued that the CR debate “will be an interesting rubber-meets-the-road moment. ... You have to remember not just freshmen but sophomores have never seen an open amendment process.”
Leadership is also quietly hoping that the CR debate — and the subsequent negotiations with Senate Democrats — will educate new Members on the realities of the legislative process.
“The upcoming CR vote is going to be instructive to rank-and-file Members, new freshmen,” the GOP aide said.
“One, these spending cuts, what do they actually mean in your district? And two, once it actually passes the House, it goes to the Senate” where Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and his Democratic majority are sure to make significant changes, the aide explained.
The leadership aide agreed, saying, “hopefully everyone understands the problem is Harry Reid.”
Additionally, the leadership aide noted that because Boehner and Cantor have committed to using an open process on bills of consequence such as the CR, Republicans will inevitably find themselves on the losing end of votes on the floor — a reality that majorities have rarely dealt with.
“It’s going to shock people the first time we lose one, and we will,” the leadership aide said.
For now, Members seem to be embracing any chance to offer amendments. For instance, the RSC is expected to pursue an amendment to the CR to pare spending to 2008 levels, and Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) last month unveiled a plan for cuts beyond that in the coming years.
RSC spokesman Brian Straessle said that if the group isn’t successful in bringing spending in the CR down to 2008 levels, it would try to force votes on Jordan’s more aggressive spending cut proposal.
He added that the RSC’s spending proposal is a “kind of a marker for where we think we should be going” that could be used as the basis for other amendments to the CR.
Straessle said there is wisdom in the GOP leadership’s strategy to use the floor fight as a temperature-taker for future budget and spending battles, saying it is “all part of that process of the House deciding where it wants to be.”
“It’s good to finally be having these discussions,” he added.