Republican Defections Signal Difficulty in Budget Talks

For Immediate Release:

March 16, 2011

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By Lisa Lerer and Julie Hirschfeld Davis
Bloomberg

Defections among rank-and-file House Republicans on the latest short-term U.S. spending bill exposed divisions that may complicate negotiations with Democrats on a broader budget plan.

In yesterday’s House vote, 54 Republicans opposed a measure to fund the government until April 8, forcing their leaders to rely on support from Democrats to pass the bill, 271-158. The legislation aims to give lawmakers more time to break their stalemate over funding the government through Sept. 30.

The stopgap measure goes to the Democratic-controlled Senate, where a vote on it is likely tomorrow, said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat. “We believe it will pass” and be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature, Schumer said.

Joining 186 House Republicans in backing the bill yesterday were 85 Democrats. Republicans opposing it included Tea Party- backed freshmen, other fiscal conservatives who wanted more spending cuts and social conservatives seeking to include in it policy directives on issues such as abortion.

The vote underscored the challenge for House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, as he works to reach agreement with Democrats on the longer-term 2011 budget. He shrugged off the defections today.

“When was the last time you saw the government here in Washington cut anything?” Boehner told reporters. “We never thought it was going to be easy.”

‘No Idea’
Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the second-ranking House Democrat, said “we have no idea what Mr. Boehner can agree to.” Hoyer added, “You can’t come to an agreement on any kind of compromise with 54 people who can’t compromise with their own leadership.”

Other Democrats said the vote shows that Boehner will have to compromise with their party to enact a spending plan that avoids a government shutdown.

“The real action is now in the House of Representatives, because it’s becoming clearer and clearer that Speaker Boehner is caught between a shutdown and a hard place,” said Schumer.

The House on Feb. 18 passed a measure for funding the rest of this fiscal year that would cut $61 billion from 2010 spending levels. The bill also would make policy changes, including a defunding of the Obama administration’s health-care overhaul, Planned Parenthood and public broadcasting. The Senate defeated it last week.

March 18 Deadline
Throughout this fiscal year, which began Oct. 1, lawmakers have relied on stopgap measures to avoid a shutdown of non- essential government services. The current spending authority, enacted earlier this month and opposed by only six House Republicans, expires March 18.

Republicans who opposed yesterday’s bill to fund the government for three more weeks said another short-term measure only postpones the debate over spending cuts and the policy provisions. The bill would cut $6 billion in spending and omits policy items.

“The American people sent us here to be bold and I don’t think this a bold step,” said Representative Joe Walsh, a freshman Republican from Illinois who was among those opposing the measure.

Judson Phillips of the Tennessee-based Tea Party Nation called on the group’s members to phone, e-mail and use social networking tools to lobby lawmakers against the measure because it didn’t include the policy provisions.

Other Lobbying
Also urging lawmakers to vote against the measure were the anti-abortion Family Research Council, the Club for Growth, which seeks limited government, and Heritage Action for America, whose website says it advocates “conservative policy.”

After the vote, defectors said they strengthened the Republican position in budget negotiations.

“I think we gain leverage” because Boehner “can say, ‘We’ve taken this thing as far as we can go, and we can’t do anything more unless you give us something,’” said Representative Steve King, an Iowa Republican pressing to kill any spending measure that doesn’t defund the health-care law.

House Republican leaders spent the early part of this week working to shore up support for the short-term measure among their most fiscally conservative members.

Boehner posted a video on his website March 14 saying the House would use other legislation to press ahead on its effort to stop funding for the health-care law.

‘Stop This Gravy Train’
The Republican-led House will “do everything we can to stop this gravy train and ensure this job-crushing health-care law is never fully implemented,” the speaker said in the video.

Representative Scott Garrett of New Jersey, a Republican who voted “no” after supporting the previous stopgap spending measure, said party leaders “worked it hard” to get backers for the bill. He also said he didn’t believe there was any dispute within the party about the overall goal of cutting spending.

“We had a difference on strategy -- how to get there,” Garrett said.

Also opposing the bill was Representative Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who said the stopgap measure plays into Democrats’ hands because postponing a decision on the entire 2011 budget makes it likely the fight will merge with an upcoming battle over increasing the federal debt limit. He said that debate should focus on bigger changes to government spending, such as cuts in entitlement programs such as Medicare.

“The longer we kick this can down the road, the more difficult it is to get to the big stuff,” said Flake. “This is small ball.”

Treasury Estimate
The Treasury Department estimates the government will reach the current limit on government borrowing between April 15 and May 31.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement the latest stopgap spending bill will provide some “breathing room” for lawmakers to work out an agreement on funding through Sept. 30.

He urged quick action. “The president has been clear: with the wide range of issues facing our nation, we cannot keep funding the government in two- or three-week increments,” Carney said. “It is time for us to come together, find common ground and resolve this issue.”