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Leaders Hope to Avoid Spending Fight

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Monday appealed to his Conference to move beyond the party’s budget battles with Democrats when it comes to an upcoming short-term spending bill.

The Virginia Republican said that while he and other Republicans will continue to seek cuts to the federal budget, they will stick to the debt deal with the White House that sets spending at a higher level than the GOP’s House-passed budget.

“I am supportive of a [continuing resolution] being written at that level,” Cantor said Monday.

Under the deal, enacted in August, discretionary spending was set at $1.043 trillion for the next fiscal year. But the budget resolution passed by the House in April — which sets discretionary spending at $1.019 trillion — is still operative, and House GOP leaders must have Members vote to put the new, higher spending level in place.

The reason for agreeing to a spending level higher than that proposed in Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) plan is simple, Cantor said.

“The risk of bringing about brinkmanship or another shutdown [fight] would not be helpful,” he said, insisting that Republicans by and large support addressing the CR in a manner “without there having to be another potential for shutdown and [instead] maintain our focus” on jobs.

Cantor’s recommitment to the debt deal comes as a small but vocal group of conservatives in the House has begun a push to resume the bitter war with President Barack Obama and Democrats over the size of the federal budget.

These conservatives insist that the debt deal levels should be seen only as a ceiling for spending in the CR and have urged leadership to stick to Ryan’s levels.

But spending fights have consumed the House for the past eight months, and leaders — as well as most of the rank and file — are eager to move on.

At this point, it does not appear that conservative opposition to a CR set at the debt deal’s levels will threaten the legislation. While hardliners will likely vote against it, leadership has not been able to count on their support for the debt deal or other measures this year. Additionally, leadership aides said even some Members who voted against the debt deal have indicated they do not want another spending fight right now.

Republicans are expected to introduce a continuing resolution late this week or early next week to fund the government through November.

Cantor’s message was briefly thrown into turmoil by a report in Politico that Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) was pursuing his own plan that would include spending cuts below the August deal.

Such news threatened to reopen divisions between the two leaders. The end of the debt talks ushered in a remarkable period of detente between the two leaders. Cantor became one of Boehner’s staunchest supporters in the waning days of the fight with the White House, while Boehner repeatedly praised his lieutenant’s efforts to hold the conservative line during talks with Democrats.

But a spokesman for Boehner said the spending level that came out of the debt deal would be the number that they are all working toward. Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said, “$1.043 trillion will be the final FY 2012 number.”

House Republican aides confirmed that a lower number had been under discussion, but they are all now working off of the debt deal number.

Leaders in the two chambers in both parties must also get on the same page on how much money to provide for emergency disaster relief and whether to offset it.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid  wants to provide $7 billion for emergency disaster relief.

But the Nevada Democrat failed to win the 60 votes needed to take up a House-passed bill that he wanted to use as the vehicle for the disaster spending.

Reid said on the Senate floor that the funding is urgently needed, noting that emergencies have been declared in 48 states.

But while Reid failed to win the vote, he might have won some political points by getting GOP Senators on record voting against disaster spending.

The likely vehicle for the funding now will be the CR.

Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions said he believes the Senate should not provide the spending before getting expert advice on the precise needs.

“We haven’t carefully examined every penny of it,” the Alabama Republican said.

“I come from a state that has suffered,” he continued. “I know we are going to need spending. But how much more do we need? … I don’t know yet. I would like to have an expert look into it before we approve another $7 billion.”

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), ranking member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said she would like as much of the disaster spending paid for as possible.

But she added that, historically, emergencies have not been offset.

“I would like to make sure that the amount of money being requested isn’t just a figure plucked out of the air, but based in a serious and realistic analysis of what the needs are,” she said.

Kerry Young contributed to this report.

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