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The Republican push to use a resolution designed to maintain spending levels as a vehicle for making big cuts will drive next week’s budget debate into uncharted territory, and leaders in both parties are unsure about how it will unfold.
“Virtually everything about this [continuing resolution] is unprecedented,” one Republican aide said. “Never before has a CR been used to reduce spending so dramatically, and never before has one been considered under anything approaching an open process.”
House Republican and Democratic leaders are bracing for a prolonged floor fight that will test both leadership teams’ ability to coordinate their rank and file. While conservative Republicans have already made clear they do not think the continuing resolution’s cuts are deep enough, conservative Democrats have made clear they may back GOP reductions in spending despite the objections of Democratic leaders.
Given the political climate surrounding spending and the deficit, undertaking an open amendment process would be hard enough. But with the CR not expected to be introduced until Thursday, Democrats and Republicans remain in a legislative limbo of sorts since both sides’ strategies will be based on how appropriators end up writing the bill.
On top of that, leaders will be dealing with a large and somewhat unpredictable freshman class. “A huge number of Members have never participated in an open debate on the House floor,” the GOP aide said. “Next week’s debate will be challenging.”
Realizing these difficulties, Republican leaders are taking steps to minimize complications.
According to GOP leadership aides, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Rules Chairman David Dreier (Calif.) have sketched out a process for four days of debate on the CR, beginning Monday. From Tuesday to 3 p.m. Thursday, lawmakers are likely to have dozens of floor votes as they slowly work through scores of GOP and Democratic amendments.
Cantor and other leaders have begun urging their Members to work collaboratively on amendments to avoid duplicative proposals. Leaders have also begun reaching out to the parliamentarian to help ensure amendments are germane to the bill, and freshman proposals are being routed to the House’s legislative counsel to make sure they are written correctly.
Because leadership is unlikely to actively whip on most amendments, McCarthy and other senior lawmakers have begun counseling freshman Members on how to whip their colleagues to build support for their proposals.