House Sell Begins on Next CR

Posted March 8, 2011 at 6:19pm

House GOP leaders say they are confident they can muster enough support to pass a second stopgap spending bill before a government shutdown next week, despite pressure from their right flank.

Conservatives have chaffed at the idea of moving any short-term continuing resolutions that do not include policy riders defunding the Democratic-written health care law and Planned Parenthood.

But despite those complaints, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy said Tuesday that he would have enough votes to pass a bill extending funding for several weeks — so long as it includes cuts.

“You’ll see Republicans go after the same percentage and maybe a higher percentage” as they did in the first two-week CR, which included $4 billion in cuts, the California Republican said.

McCarthy’s acknowledgment comes despite the fact that for days, House Republicans have sought to enforce unusually tight message discipline, pressing Members and staff alike to “not negotiate with themselves” and reserve comment until Democrats produce an alternative spending bill, GOP aides said.

According to aides, offices have been instructed to deflect questions about talks with Democrats on any aspect of spending until Senate Democrats and the White House put forth a formal alternative that makes cuts to baseline levels.

Although more circumspect in discussing a second short-term CR, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) also acknowledged it may be necessary, noting that “everything has been discussed. … There’s a lot more work to do.”

But despite the guarded rhetoric, Republican leadership isn’t taking any chances with the next short-term bill. Leaders, including McCarthy, began reaching out to conservative Democrats to see whether they would support another short-term measure while negotiations continue, according to sources familiar with the conversations.

“You pick off people from time to time. When an Upton bill gets to the floor, they’ll target Energy Democrats,” one Republican lobbyist said, referencing Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.). “It’s Blue Dogs because it’s more about fiscal issues.”

Blue Dog Co-Chairman Heath Shuler (D-N.C.) is a key target, according to the lobbyist.

“Another strong bipartisan vote on a short-term CR will help moving forward with negotiations on the overall bill,” one senior Republican aide said, referring to the longer-term CR.

Likewise, Cantor said the fact that 104 Democrats backed the first CR is a “sign that we’ll be able to deliver whichever way we go.”

A senior GOP aide, however, denied that Republicans have reached out to Democrats, maintaining that they will not do so until Democrats come forward with their own position so that negotiations can begin.

“Democrats don’t have a unified plan yet, so it’s hard for us to negotiate or talk about cooperation with these conservative Democrats when their leadership doesn’t have a unified stance. … It’s hard for us to convince conservative Democrats to abandon their leadership’s position when they don’t even have one,” the aide said.

House Democrats, meanwhile, are still working at least publicly under the assumption that a long-term CR will be completed by the March 18 deadline, according to House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The Maryland Democrat said Tuesday that he believed it was irresponsible to continue to pass short-term spending measures.

“We cannot continue to fund the government on two-week extensions,” Hoyer said. “It is irresponsible. It is inefficient. It undermines confidence in the private sector and undermines morale in the public sector.”

Republicans, however, continued to dismiss Democratic complaints, arguing the blame for the protracted funding process lies with Senate Democrats and the White House.

Noting that President Barack Obama tasked Vice President Joseph Biden with leading negotiations, only to send him on an extended overseas trip, McCarthy quipped, “What do they want to do, have a [government] shutdown and wait until he comes back?”

But even if Republicans are able to muster enough support from across the aisle for a strong bipartisan showing, Senate Democrats are, at least for now, throwing cold water on the idea.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on the House-passed longer-term CR as well as a Democratic alternative at 3 p.m. today. However, the next steps are still very much uncertain as both measures are expected to fail.

“I personally am opposed to more short term. We have to get the long term done. Long term is becoming short term; we’re down to about six months now,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday.

“So I would hope that we can move forward on a long-term solution to the country’s problems as it relates to this. … It’s all short term now; there is no long term,” the Nevada Democrat added.

Although Reid could change his tune in the coming days — he has long used rhetorical outbursts such as the one Tuesday as a negotiating tactic — the threat of government shutdown is something Republicans are keen to avoid.

“No, no, no, we do not want to shut down the government,” Cantor said Tuesday when asked whether that was an acceptable option.