Having difficulty finding consensus within their own ranks, House Republican leaders have begun courting moderate Democrats on several key fiscal issues, including a deal to avoid a government shutdown at the end of next week.
The basic outline would involve more than $30 billion in cuts for the 2011 spending package, well short of the $61 billion initially demanded by freshman Republicans and other conservatives, according to senior aides in both parties. Such a deal probably would be acceptable to Senate leaders and President Obama as long as the House didn’t impose funding restrictions on certain social and regulatory programs supported by Democrats, Senate and administration aides said.
The fact that Republican leaders have initiated talks with some Democrats shows some division within House Republicans just two months after taking over the House. Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership team recognizes that legislation that meets with approval from his most conservative flank — what Democrats call the “perfectionist caucus” — would be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
At the same time, conservatives have become increasingly unhappy with recent spending proposals, saying they wouldn’t cut deep enough. Fifty-four of them voted against a stopgap budget measure two weeks ago that passed with significant Democratic support. After that vote House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with a conservative bloc of Democrats to discuss potential common ground on the budget and other pressing fiscal issues.
There are some indications, however, that Speaker Boehner & Co. aren't exactly prepared to give away the store:
On top of the $10 billion in savings, Democrats are willing to offer an additional $20 billion in spending cuts. But they said they will not do so until they are assured that it would get them close to an agreement.
House Republicans want to use their bill as a starting point because it also includes provisions that limit funding for some social and regulatory issues.
“It’s just not cutting spending. There are a number of limitations that passed on the floor of the House” that must be addressed, Boehner said.
Those provisions have created a large hurdle for securing a final deal. Republican aides have said the provisions and the overall cost cutting are linked: The fewer that are attached to the bill, the bigger the cuts Republicans will seek.
It's far too early to call this a capitulation, but the prospect that party leadership may be courting blue dog Democrats harder than GOP freshmen is concerning. True, conservatives need to understand that in a divided government, the GOP can't and won't get its way on every detail. However, Republican leaders must forge a smart deal that keeps as many of the cuts -- including controversial riders like Planned Parenthood and EPA -- intact as possible. If they strike a rotten deal just for the sake of averting a Democrat-caused partial shutdown, that doesn't bode well for the future.
The Washington Examiner's Phil Klein makes several good points about whether this battle should be fiscal conservatives' hill to die on, especially in light of the mammoth 2012 budget war that will soon consume Washington.
With House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., set to release his fiscal 2012 budget proposal in the coming weeks, conservatives pushing for spending restraint will face a complex question.
Right now, the budget battle concerns the remaining six months of the fiscal 2011 budget, with the possibility of a government shutdown looming if no deal is struck by April 8. The Ryan plan will not only deal with the full 2012 fiscal year beginning in October, but will offer a budget outline for the next 10 years.
So the question facing conservative activists is whether to focus all their energies on the short-time budget fight that deals with $61 billion in cuts over the next several months, or place more emphasis the next fight that could affect spending for decades to come.
To be sure, some longer-term perspective is in order here. That being said, it's harder to win a war after you've been routed in a major early battle. If Republican leadership accepts a raw deal on the 2011 CR, why should they be trusted to go to the mat over the 2012 budget -- where, as Klein says, really substantial savings are at stake?
Why not turn this around on Democrats? Are Democrats really willing to shut down the federal government they worship over paltry cuts that amount to 1/4 of February's federal deficit? Who's being unreasonable here? And what was the message of the American people in November?