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As House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s financial blueprint wends its way to the floor with reluctant GOP support, Members and staff are stricken with a resounding sense of “Here we go again.”
The House and Senate are again split on how much money to spend in fiscal 2013, and some Members acknowledge that a continuing resolution in September will be the only option to keep the government functioning.
House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Wednesday that it is “realistic” that a CR at the end of this year could maintain spending levels closer to those in the Budget Control Act than Ryan’s budget.
The problem is that unlike last September, there’s an election on the horizon. Some Republicans worry privately that the unflinching conservative flank of the GOP could expose the party to attacks that it is yet again risking a government shutdown. That criticism, they said, could endanger the House majority and a potential takeover of the Senate.
Because the appropriations bills funding the government expire Sept. 30, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan also said a short-term CR is the most likely option to continue spending into next year.
A CR, he said, could maintain current spending levels of $1.043 trillion, rather than the $1.047 trillion for fiscal 2013 agreed to in the BCA — and though he has pushed for lower spending levels, that would be fine with him.
“If it’s a short-term CR, that is in my judgment better than locking in a year’s worth of spending at a higher number,” the Ohio Republican said. “Hopefully we’ll get a new Congress, new Senate and new administration come January of 2013” that would allow Members to cut spending further.
There are signs, though, that conservatives are still itching for a fight and would not so easily accept a CR at current levels. They pushed to cut Ryan’s budget to $931 billion, rather than the current $1.028 trillion to which Members agreed.
And in an RSC meeting Wednesday, Jordan announced with wide support that next week, the RSC will release its own budget, which sticks to the $931 billion number and balances the budget in 10 years. That contrasts with the roughly 25 years in Ryan’s budget, according to a source in the meeting.
There is also the problem of CR fatigue. Members have in the past expressed dismay at having to vote on temporary spending bills, and as a result, House leadership has had problems pulling in 218 Republican votes. Instead, they have had to rely on Democratic votes to put such measures over the top.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, a veteran appropriator, said that dynamic has led to frustration among his peers, who say they are unable to do their work.
“There are some people who won’t vote for anything which represents to them too large an appropriation,” the New Jersey Republican said.
One House GOP aide expressed skepticism that those Members would vote for a CR after previously voting for lower spending levels. Instead, the aide worried that Members could try to extract even more spending cuts, to the detriment of Republicans in the November elections.
“It could place Members in the awkward situation of looking like they are changing positions on the topline level,” the aide said. “It’s possible that some may balk at this prospect, refuse to vote for a continuing resolution, and therefore risk a government shutdown just weeks before the election.”
That would allow Democrats to say Republicans want to shut down the government, as they did last year when dragged-out fights over spending and the debt limit helped lead to all-time low Congressional approval ratings.
At the same time, Senators of both parties have said that they should not budge from the BCA number of $1.047 trillion. Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) took the first procedural steps Tuesday to start the budget process with the BCA’s number.
“The BCA that passed is the law of the land and the levels were set in August and we have to stick to them,” a Senate Democratic aide said.
Because both sides are unwavering, Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa), another veteran appropriator and a close ally of Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), acknowledged that a CR will most likely have to pass on a “bipartisan vote” in the House.
“With the Senate not doing anything, it’s absolutely going to be a CR at the end of the year,” he said.
But while a bipartisan vote was necessary last year, when dozens of Republicans turned their backs on leadership to vote against spending bills, Jordan said the state of play looks different this year.
“If the choice is ... spending at [$1.047 trillion] for a full year or spending at [$1.043 trillion] for a short-term CR, I think Republican Members understand what’s better for taxpayers,” he said.
But the GOP aide said the scenario is unpalatable either way, especially because it could expose Senate Republicans who voted for the BCA last year to attacks that they are not as conservative as their House counterparts, especially in a year when control of the chamber is up for grabs.
“The BCA makes massive cuts — over $900 billion in discretionary alone — yet different toplines could spur unfair comparisons between the Senate and House GOP,” the aide said.