As House negotiators neared a six-month spending agreement tonight, they set up late-week votes that could be the strongest political litmus test yet for a freshman-heavy conservative Conference entering its first re-election challenge.
The House Appropriations Committee finalized language for a half-year continuing resolution and introduced the bill this evening.
And while lawmakers and aides expressed confidence they will clear the stopgap bill and avert a pre-election shutdown, just who votes in favor of it - especially among tea-party-influenced Members - could be a sign of just how much this new class of lawmakers has learned from nearly two years of brinksmanship.
The defining narrative of this Congress has been deficit reduction, pushed mostly by an anti-government-spending class of 87 freshman House Republicans. But as November inches closer, Members will have to balance their promises to slash spending against the reality that a shutdown could be an irreversible gamble in their bid to win back the Senate and White House. For his part, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seems optimistic, having recently said the group has "matured."
"If you ask any of the guys who were the hot spots in previous CR fights - say what you will, everybody fought really hard to get here - they can pretend that they want to shut the government down, but when you're facing your own re-election in the face - not just broadly Mitt Romney versus Barack Obama, but your own re-election - it's hard to see the political benefits of shutting the government down," one House Republican aide said.
Sources close to both the House and Senate appropriations process said today that the plan was for the House to move forward with as clean of a six-month continuing resolution as possible. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) had pushed Boehner before the August recess to agree to a stopgap bill at the $1.047 trillion spending target for the fiscal year set by last summer's Budget Control Act. Though the full appropriations process broke down earlier this year when House Republicans, led by House Budget Chairman and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), tried to cut spending beyond the already agreed upon levels, Rogers blamed the Senate in a statement released tonight.
"My committee members worked relentlessly to produce legislation that adequately and responsibly funds the federal government, and did so in a timely manner. Unfortunately, with the Senate's inaction and election-year politics in play, ... a temporary funding Band-Aid is necessary to prevent a government shutdown," he said.
But the agreement to set the level higher than conservatives wanted provides insurance that the bill will actually pass the House, because Democrats are set to support it.
"CRs are bipartisan bills," House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters today. "I expect that bill to be a bipartisan bill, and I expect the Senate to pass it as well."