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House Republican leaders may have to make an unexpected course correction on the continuing resolution to head off defections from unhappy moderates.
The discontent surfaced Tuesday as the House began debate on the stopgap spending measure, which is being considered under an open process that could result in hundreds of amendments. Moderates have stopped short of threatening to vote no on final passage but are complaining that leaders have been too arbitrary about the spending cuts contained in the CR.
Republican leaders already gave in to pressure on the measure from conservatives, who were demanding that an additional $26 billion in cuts be included. The spending measure, which keeps the government funded through Sept. 30, now contains $100 billion in cuts from President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget request. The current CR expires March 4.
Now, however, Republican leaders are discovering that by putting out one fire, they may have ignited another — emboldening moderates who want their own changes to the stopgap spending bill.
Rep. Steven LaTourette is leading the charge of some members of the moderate Tuesday Group who want to make sure the CR does not pick “winners and losers.”
“The amendment looks for across-the-board reduction in all accounts to achieve the $100 billion in savings, but it treats everybody sort of the same,” LaTourette said. “This is just funding things for the next several months so we can clean up the mess that Democrats left for us and then begin the regular appropriations process for fiscal year 2012.”
The Ohio Republican, an ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), was still working Tuesday afternoon on the specifics of the amendment to ensure that it would be ruled in order.
Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, co-chairwoman of the Tuesday Group, would not commit to supporting LaTourette’s amendment, but the Missouri Republican said she expects it would get a lot of support. Emerson said she is in a tough spot because she also serves on the Appropriations Committee, which crafted the original CR language.
“I’m not, not supportive of it, but as I said, I’m in an awkward position right now,” she said. “I mean, hopefully, I think it would get a fair amount of support.”
Even Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton said he would back LaTourette’s amendment to avoid deeper cuts to programs such as low-income heating assistance.
“It’s a pretty thoughtful amendment, and the bottom line is what I’m concerned about so I’m going vote for it,” the Michigan Republican said.
Rep. Walter Jones Jr., who regularly bucks the GOP, also said he would be open to supporting the LaTourette amendment.
“I’ve got to see,” the North Carolina Republican said. “I’m willing to do what needs to be done as long as I can justify my vote to my God first — I am a very strong man of faith — and then to the people. ... Right now I’ve made no commitment.”
Jones said it would be “hard to say” whether he could vote for the bill on final passage until after the amendment process plays out.
Despite the moderates’ concerns, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy dismissed the suggestion that the Conference is divided. “We have a very united caucus, and the floor is going to be very free flowing,” the California Republican said.
The open amendment process will address any lingering concerns among Members, McCarthy said.
“There will be amendments that pass and amendments that fail,” he said. “When you go into cuts, people want to see cuts in different places. That’s why we have an open process.”
McCarthy may have his work cut out for him. Republicans have hit some snags in recent days trying to pass far less contentious legislation. Leaders are not whipping individual amendments on the CR, but Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) plans to set an example for the Conference on how to vote. “He’ll inform them how he intends to vote on a case-by-case basis,” a Rogers aide said. “Otherwise, his vote itself is the position.”
Several lobbyists said GOP leaders are finding themselves in a similar position to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who struggled to get conservative House Democrats to support a controversial climate change bill in the 111th Congress that had no chance of passage in the Senate.
“Republicans who are not comfortable voting for this are going to be walking the plank, similar to Democrats on the climate bill,” one Democratic lobbyist said.
House Democrats were enjoying watching Republicans face similar struggles to what they endured over the past two years trying to unite Members around their agenda.
“When you have 260 Republican amendments to your bill, it would appear that everybody’s not in agreement with what you’ve done,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said, adding that “the deep divisions that we’ve seen within the Republican party over the last week” made it difficult to predict how many votes the CR would get.
The Maryland Democrat predicted that “not many” Democrats would support the CR. Just eight Democrats — six of whom are moderate Blue Dogs — voted Tuesday in favor of the Republican rule setting terms of CR floor debate, a possible early barometer of Democratic support on final passage.
One Democratic lobbyist said Blue Dogs are reconsidering their earlier support of the spending measure. “It remains unclear whether they’ll stick with that position, but people are definitely predisposed to reconsider that,” the lobbyist said.
And Monday’s rule vote also signaled GOP leaders might not have completely extinguished concerns from their conservative ranks. Two leaders of the Tea Party Caucus — Reps. Michele Bachmann (Minn.) and Steve King (Iowa) — voted “present” on the rule. They have been pushing GOP leaders to allow King’s amendment to bar funding for the health care law.
Rep. Jack Kingston said it’s impossible to predict what amendments would pass since leadership is not whipping votes. The Georgia Republican underscored that Members will have to make up their own minds on individual amendments.
“I think there is pressure to vote for the CR, but after that [we have to look] through our own prism,” Kingston said.