House conservatives are gearing up for a fight with Democrats and their own leadership over the size of the upcoming continuing resolution, even as Republican leaders soften their rhetoric regarding President Barack Obama.
Conservatives, unhappy that last month's debt limit deal included significantly higher budget levels than those included in Budget Chairman Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget, are demanding the CR — and a subsequent omnibus spending measure — stick to Ryan's numbers rather than those agreed to in the debt deal.
But Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and other leaders are in no mood for another budget battle, and the Appropriations Committee is expected to produce a CR that runs through November that meets the budget levels set in the debt deal.
But the Republican Study Committee — which squared off with Boehner during the debt deal in a losing effort to force deeper cuts — is considering submitting its own CR and actively opposing the appropriations bill.
"We're looking at options," an aide to a conservative lawmaker said last week, adding that "there's a good chance conservatives will put forward a version of the CR" based either on the Ryan budget or possibly the RSC's even leaner budget.
Even some conservative members of the Appropriations Committee might buck their panel leaders.
Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), an appropriator, said that while he does not want to do battle with his leadership, he dismissed the levels in the debt deal as not serious. "You can judge any budget deal in Washington by how much they're willing to cut in the first year," he said, pointing to the relatively low level of cuts expected in fiscal 2012 under the agreement.
Flake also complained that "this was a ceiling, not a floor" when leaders sold the debt deal to the rank and file in August.
The level of anger remains unclear. GOP leadership aides said that while Boehner and his team are aware of conservatives' concerns, most members of the Conference returned from the August recess wanting to leave the fiscal wars of the spring and summer behind them and focus instead on the economy.
One senior aide also pointed out that polling — both public and internal — has clearly demonstrated that protracted partisan fights with the White House have done nothing for the popularity of Republican lawmakers.
With the public having more confidence in Obama than in Republicans, it is critical for the GOP to find common ground with Democrats and move on, the aide argued.