House Republican leaders are privately warning Speaker John Boehner that they may not have the votes to pass a six-month spending bill with significantly less than $61 billion in cuts, and they are chafing at his closed-mouth style of negotiating.
Boehner, Senate Democrats and the White House are zeroing in on $33 billion in spending cuts. But the Ohio Republican is finding significant resistance from his top lieutenants, who have repeatedly warned they cannot sell that number to rank-and-file Members, insisting on at least $40 billion in cuts.
According to sources close to the issue, during a leadership meeting this week Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) reiterated their concerns with Boehner’s handling of the talks. According to these sources, Boehner’s fellow leaders are concerned that a smaller deal will not muster the 218 Republican votes needed for passage. In fact, several sources said that at one point McCarthy bluntly warned they would lose a significant number of GOP votes if the deal is based on $33 billion in cuts.
Boehner spokesman Michael Steel downplayed the frustrations of the leadership team, chalking it up to general anxiety over the slow state of negotiations and a lack of action by the Senate.
“More than 40 days after the House passed a funding bill for the remainder of the year that cuts spending to help create jobs, I think everyone is frustrated that the Senate has failed to act,” Steel said.
“But our team is working together, focused on our shared goal: getting the biggest spending cuts possible enacted into law,” he added.
But others said that the frustration also stems from Boehner’s handling of the issue and that even if Boehner does deliver a deal above the $40 billion mark, that still might not be enough even for some in leadership.
“You’d have to find a bill close to $61 [billion], or at least in the high $50 [billions],” said Rep. Tim Scott, a freshman member of GOP leadership.
“My theory is that between now and next Friday there is going to be a deal cut. It’s not going to be $33 billion. It’s going to be significantly higher for us to be at the table, the freshman class specifically,” the South Carolina Republican said.
Republicans said Boehner’s fellow leaders are particularly concerned with the prospect of having to rely on Democratic votes to pass the bill, arguing that it will set a bad precedent for future difficult issues, most notably the looming debt limit vote.
“This is going to be nothing compared to the debt limit,” one GOP aide said.
Beyond concerns with the actual number that Boehner has been negotiating, Republicans said there is growing frustration with the lack of information that Boehner has provided to rank-and-file Members and to members of his leadership team.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.