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With just weeks to go before their deadline, Republicans on the House Budget Committee have yet to break their stalemate on spending levels, leaving open the chance of a government shutdown showdown mere months before the November elections.
Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and GOP leaders have remained silent about the issue and have yet to stem the tide of another conservative revolt from within their ranks. Based on last year’s battles, it’s not clear they can.
Members of the conservative Republican Study Committee are seizing their last chance to take a chunk out of Congressional spending, working behind closed doors to reduce the spending cap agreed to in July’s Budget Control Act.
“I look at the big picture first. I think it is clearly important we draw a contrast with this president,” RSC Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) said. “We’re saying, ‘Let’s show the contrast and let’s stick to what Republicans championed last year.’”
Jordan said he sees the tide turning in his direction in the negotiations. But the campaign could materialize into an election-year doomsday scenario for Republicans.
Even if the House budgeteers succeed in lowering their topline number, Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye indicated in an interview that there is little interest among Senate Democrats to follow suit.
“We’ve got this Budget Control Act, and that’s the law of the land,” the Hawaii Democrat said.
House Appropriators, meanwhile, warn that passing a budget lower than the agreed-upon $1.047 trillion in the BCA would imperil their mission to bring bills to President Barack Obama’s desk before Sept. 30, when the current spending bills expire.
Absent new spending bills for fiscal 2013, Congress would have to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government operational past Sept. 30.
Hard-line conservatives, willing to challenge their own leadership on spending levels, would not likely bow to the Senate in those cross-Dome budget negotiations. And in that case, some Congressional observers see a potential government shutdown as a very real possibility.
“I don’t think that’s likely to happen, but that could happen,” said Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, a Republican member of the Appropriations and Budget committees. “We’re going to pass a CR anyway, but when we move into negotiations with the Senate, it’s better if we have actually passed a bill first.”
Still, that is months away, and for now, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan is hoping to pass the budget out of committee by the end of this month.
He and his staff are holding meetings with Members all week. But it remains unclear yet if the Wisconsin Republican — a Member of the RSC himself — has the votes in his committee to pass any budget at all.