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House Republican leaders seem to have averted a potential rift in the conference, garnering wide support for a continuing resolution that Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Thursday said will move next week.
GOP leaders called a Wednesday afternoon meeting to brief members on the strategy for the CR, where Speaker John A. Boehner urged members to continue fighting in unison, on Capitol Hill and in their districts, to keep the sequester’s spending cuts in effect.
“We’re on the side of the angels,” the Ohio Republican told his members in the closed-door conference meeting, according to a source in the room.
House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., on Wednesday helped explain the details of his bill at the special meeting of the Republican Conference. He is drafting a fiscal 2013 spending package that would effectively cap spending at around $974 billion. It uses mechanisms put in place by the two recent budget control measures (PL 112-25, PL 112-240) to make the cuts. Those measures would keep in place a cap of $1.043 trillion on discretionary spending for fiscal 2013, but the sequester kicks in March 1 and cuts that back to about $974 billion.
Rogers left the meeting saying there was “wide and deep” support for his bill. “I have never seen a matter of this magnitude that had no one speak against it,” he said.
Many Republicans leaving the meeting echoed that, saying there appears to be strong support for the Rogers bill. Leaders will still need to canvas members before bringing it to the floor, but that doesn’t appear to be an obstacle, Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, said as he left the meeting.
“I am sure that they are going to officially whip the conference before making a decision, but it sure looked good to me,” Brady said.
There had been some concern that the bill starts out with a nominal topline that’s higher than the sequester. Under current law, the sequester will be triggered Friday and will hit hard at Rogers’ bill. It will absorb about $71 billion of the $85 billion in scheduled cuts. Congress would need to alter the law to prevent this. But to assuage the concerns of conservatives, Rogers will write into his bill a provision that will state a clear intention for the sequester to hit.
“A lot of us who are not appropriators don’t understand it, but it will be at the lower number,” Brady said.
The current six-month stopgap funding bill (PL 112-175) expires on March 27, when Congress is scheduled to be on Easter recess. Rogers’ measure would combine a continuing resolution for most federal agencies, and new fiscal 2013 Defense and Military Construction-VA bills. That move would, in effect, allow military and veterans’ programs a chance to soften the effect of the sequester by giving them greater flexibility to manage spending.
Rogers said he spoke with Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md., on Wednesday afternoon, as well as with Rep. Nita M. Lowey of New York, his Democratic counterpart on the House Appropriations panel. He said they are open to the defense portion of the bill, but he stopped short of saying they have pledged their support.
“I think we’ve got a bill that can pass both bodies,” he said. “We’ve got to keep it fair and noncontroversial, and I think it is a fair non-political funding of the government.”
Mikulski has said publicly that she might add more spending bills to Rogers’ fiscal 2013 measure, giving other agencies some flexibility. She could also seek to package it with a measure providing alternatives to the sequester.
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., said he wants to be certain that the final fiscal 2013 spending bill cannot be changed to undo the sequester’s cuts altogether. He said he will need to see the Rogers bill, which might be released as early as March 4, and then calculate whether there could be some changes to it in time that would erase the sequester’s cuts.
“My objective is to ensure that the overall sequester levels hold,” McClintock said. “I need to be certain that that is the effect of this legislation, and I have not yet pulled it apart to see what makes it work.”