Thirty-three conservative House Republicans — including one committee chairman — have signed onto a letter urging leadership to bring to the floor a "clean" one-year continuing resolution that funds the government at sequester levels.
But don't construe this plea as a coordinated assault on a budget deal that could emerge as soon as Tuesday afternoon, according to Rep. Mick Mulvaney of South Carolina, who spearheaded the letter along with Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Republican Study Committee Chairman Steve Scalise.
And don't use it to characterize how all the lawmakers would vote should the deal replace the sequester, as expected.
"The letter is not, 'What are we going to vote for, what can we support?,'" Mulvaney told CQ Roll Call in a phone interview. "All we're saying is, 'Look, if we don't get anything we can support, we are not going to tolerate a government shutdown.'"
Rather, Mulvaney and the other co-signers want Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., to pass a CR by the end of this week as a "backstop" to avoid another government shutdown when current funding expires on Jan. 15.
If House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., can deliver a good deal that has majority support, then great: it would override the CR, Mulvaney said. If the deal falls apart, then at least the anxiety over a shutdown is taken off the table — although that would require Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama to go along as well.
In a statement accompanying the public release of the letter, Scalise further sought to clarify any confusion.
"I remain hopeful that Chairmen Ryan and Murray will reach an agreement to rein in wasteful Washington spending, but in the absence of a deal, it is imperative that we have a backstop in place to avert another government shutdown," Scalise said. "Passing a clean CR at enacted spending levels established by the Budget Control Act provides that backstop."
The letter was drafted last week in the midst of murmurs that Boehner was prepared to pass a short-term CR at the sequester levels in the event the budget conference committee came to an impasse.
It was also in reaction to a declaration by House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., that he would not support any CR that upheld the sequester.
"It is becoming clear to us that our colleagues across the aisle are interested in one thing more than any other as we come to the end of the year: they are desperate for another government shutdown," the letter reads. "This became painfully clear last week when the Minority Whip indicated he would rather shut the government down than vote for funding levels that he himself voted for last year.
"Indeed, he indicated that he would rather shut the government down than vote for the exact same funding levels on which he was insisting only six weeks ago," the letter continues.
While it's true that Hoyer, and other members of Democratic leadership, begrudgingly supported a short-term stopgap spending bill at the sequester level of $986 billion in order to reopen the government, that level is set to nosedive to a more austere $967 billion in the new year that would make it infinitely more difficult for Democrats to swallow — not to mention many Republicans, especially those who sit on the House Appropriations Committee.
The 33 lawmakers who signed onto the Mulvaney-Jordan-Scalise letter said they were aware that the sequester isn't ideal.
"We are very much aware that these cuts are inefficiently applied, and that they impact the military disproportionately," they wrote. "For that reason we have supported numerous efforts to either replace the sequester or to allow flexibility in its implementation. It is not lost on us, however, that the Democrats have opposed all those efforts."
House GOP appropriators who want a more workable topline number at which to write the 12 annual spending bills might be inclined to oppose efforts to bring up a CR at this time for fear it would give Republicans a reason to vote against a Ryan-Murray agreement if it didn't meet certain ideological purity standards.
Heritage Action for America said on Monday that it didn't like the current budget framework being reported, and Americans for Prosperity announced Tuesday it would "score" votes on any proposal that brought spending levels above $967 billion.
Mulvaney said he thought that passing a CR in advance of a budget deal would have the opposite effect.
"I think it gives Ryan more leverage because the Democrats don't believe that he could ever pass a clean CR because of conservatives," said Mulvaney, referring to the angst during the shutdown where hardline Republicans demanded defunding parts of the 2010 health law as conditions for reopening the government.
"Michele Bachmann is a signatory of a letter," said Mulvaney of the Tea Party Caucus founder and Minnesota Republican. "Did anybody think she would vote for a clean CR?"
In addition to Bachmann, other hard-line conservative co-signers include Reps. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan., Steve King, R-Iowa., Thomas Massie, R-Ky., and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
The most mainstream signature came from Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who is the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee.
Read the whole letter, addressed to Boehner and Cantor, below, complete with the original bold lettering.
It is becoming clear to us that our colleagues across the aisle are interested in one thing more than any other as we come to the end of the year: they are desperate for another government shutdown. This became painfully clear yesterday when the Minority Whip indicated he would rather shut the government down than vote for funding levels that he himself voted for last year. Indeed, he indicated that he would rather shut the government down than vote for the exact same funding levels on which he was insisting only six weeks ago.
With their own popularity cratering along with that of Obamacare, one can understand why the Democrats would want the diversion of another government shutdown. We are not interested in giving the Democrats that opportunity. And toward that end, we encourage you to allow a vote as soon as practicable on a full-year “clean CR” funding bill at the levels established in law by the Budget Control Act.
We recognize that a clean CR would preserve the cuts called for in the sequester. We are very much aware that these cuts are inefficiently applied, and that they impact the military disproportionately. For that reason we have supported numerous efforts to either replace the sequester or to allow flexibility in its implementation. It is not lost on us, however, that the Democrats have opposed all of those efforts.
What has become clear is that Democrats are not interested in solving the problems created by the sequester: they are only interested in using the threat of the cuts as leverage to increase spending across the board, to increase our national debt, and to raise taxes and fees. Or worse, they are interested in using feigned concern over national defense in order to distract attention from the disaster that is Obamacare.
The Budget Control Act is the law of the land. Our Democrat colleagues are now threatening to shut the government down in order to change that. We should not permit that to happen.
Again, we encourage you to bring a clean CR to the floor.
Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C.
Steve Scalise, R-La.
Jim Jordon, R-Ohio
Marlin Stutzman, R-Ind.
Tim Huelskamp, R-Kan.
Jeff Duncan, R-S.C.
Justin Amash, R-Mich.
Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.
Thomas Massie, R-Ky.
Rob Woodall, R-Ga.
David Schweikert, R-Ariz.
Tom Rice, R-S.C.
Raul Labrador, R-Idaho
Phil Roe, R-Tenn.
Louie Gohmert, R-Texas
Robert Pittinger, R-N.C.
Steve King, R-Iowa
Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.
Scott Garrett, R-N.J.
Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio
Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C.
Jeb Henserling, R-Texas
Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.
Joe L. Barton, R-Texas
Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.
Ted Yoho, R-Fla
Matt Salmon, R-Ariz.
Mark Sanford, R-S.C.
Todd Rokita, R-Ind.
Mike Pompeo, R-Kan.
Tom McClintock, R-Calif.
Reid Ribble, R-Wis.
Doug Collins, R-Ga.
Correction 3:28 p.m.
An earlier version of this report mispelled Rep. Jeb Hensarling's name.