Frustrated by an increasingly hostile intraparty fight over the budget, GOP leaders are fielding a compromise spending level to placate conservatives and appropriators alike in the hopes of nipping the civil war in the bud.
The discussions have centered on a plan that would mirror House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's topline figure from last year's budget, $1.028 trillion, and spurn the $1.047 trillion figure that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) negotiated with Senate Democrats in July's Budget Control Act.
Ryan's office did not return requests for comment on the ongoing negotiations. But Members and aides confirmed that the Wisconsin Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Republican Budget Committee members will hold a substantive meeting today to iron out the details before they recess for a weeklong break Friday.
But the compromise is still in peril, as it might not be enough to placate appropriators or hard-line conservatives alike, who have warred about how much money to spend next year.
"I don't think people want to sink the bill. I think it's really important that we pass a bill, so hopefully we'll find common ground, find a compromise," said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), who sits on both the Appropriations and Budget committees and has favored sticking with the BCA number.
The $1.028 trillion mark would create a rocky road for the budget in committee and on the House floor. If, as expected, no Democrats vote for the plan, just three Republicans voting "no" could sink the deal in committee, and there's more than enough angst on the GOP side to make that happen.
In one corner are the appropriators, who believe lowering the spending cap below the BCA levels jeopardizes their chances of passing their bills this year and who have three seats on the Budget Committee.
"It doesn't have to be our way or the highway," Cole said. "At the end of the day, appropriators are almost always team players, and a lot of the people that are insisting on some of these things aren't."
In the other corner sits the Republican Study Committee, which has pushed against leadership and the BCA number in favor of a budget of $931 billion and is well-represented on the committee.
"We will pass a budget," said Republican Policy Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.), a member of the RSC and the Budget Committee who has pushed for a lower spending level. "The fact that the Senate hasn't passed a budget and has failed in its responsibility is no excuse for the House to fail in its responsibility."
But the fact remains that any three Members, upset that the mark is either too high or too low, could band together to shoot down Ryan's budget before it even sees the House floor.
Appropriators are concerned that their bills, which they hope to send to the president's desk by the Sept. 30 deadline, will get no support from the GOP Members forcing the spending cap cuts or Democrats objecting to the cuts.
The whole exercise is complicated by the sequestration process, which would force an additional $97 billion in discretionary spending cuts in fiscal 2013.
Members have confirmed that Ryan is considering fielding a separate reconciliation bill to deal with sequestration. The bill would instruct committees of jurisdiction to deal with the spending reductions, though it is unclear which committees and how the Budget Committee would ask them to break up the cuts.
House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon has been a proponent of turning the sequester off because he said cuts to defense would be harmful. He said reconciliation would be difficult to pull off, though, as a way to address the sequester.
"Any way we can fix it, we should do it," the California Republican said. "It would be a heavy lift, so I don't know if they can pull it off."
Of course, the arcane process will never get that far because the House must have someone to reconcile with. In order for the procedure to work, the Senate must pass a reconciliation bill as well. Senators will not and have indicated that they will pass appropriations bills in line with the BCA.
"We passed a budget [in the BCA]. Not a resolution, but a law. It's much more binding and effective," said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who sits on the Budget Committee. "They want to cut deeper, and that would kind of break the agreement. That's going nowhere."
Still, House Members say the resolution could be effective in laying out election-year priorities.
"I think the point is to lay that marker out there and indicate that this is the preferred path forward," said Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio), an appropriator. "I'm perfectly comfortable with that, and I don't think it's a great excuse to say, 'We're not going to put it in there because the Senate's not going to do anything.'"