Congress is poised to approve a six-month stopgap spending measure this week, a sure sign that even the most conservative lawmakers are willing to overlook costs they once opposed so they can hit the campaign trail without a hitch – or a government shutdown.
“We could fight this out and have a government shutdown and save another $2 billion and have another huge bloody fight,” freshman Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said. “We can stretch this out, the Senate can try to make it a giant election-year game, or we can push this into next year and let the American people resolve this in November.”
A continuing resolution summary of the “anomalies,” or additional expenditures to the $1.047 trillion government spending levels for the next half-year, reveal a number of programs that will continue to receive support. The total amount spent over the next six months should Congress pass the spending bill as it’s expected to, however, will still be significantly less than last year’s totals.
Some of the more notable anomalies include funding transfers for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, an extension of the authority to acquire products in countries along a major supply route to Afghanistan, $100 million for uranium research, local funds to the District of Columbia, funds to the Office of Government Ethics to implement the STOCK Act to curb Congressional insider trading, funds for the Office of Presidential Transition and authority for the Department of Transportation to liquidate obligations incurred for WMATA, Washington, D.C.’s public transit system.
The legislation also extends the federal employee pay freeze through the duration of the CR and requires each federal agency to file an update for its spending plans in the event Congress fails to replace the looming sequester, which is scheduled to kick into effect in January 2013.
But the small battles that threatened to shut down the government multiple times throughout the 112th Congress seem to have been set aside so Members can gird up for the larger wars over the fiscal cliff that could begin as soon as November, or so they say.
It’s also likely that even the most conservative Members recognize that a government shutdown in October could threaten their bids to reclaim the White House and the Senate.
When asked Tuesday, few conservative House Members said they would vote against the continuing resolution – which is on the floor because Congress could not agree this year to appropriations bills – because they believe it would be better to push the battle over spending into the new year.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who has voted against CRs in the past, said the temporary measure is attractive to him this go-round because it would remove spending decisions from lame-duck Members.
“If we can have a flat-line, year-to-year – and we’re still looking at the numbers to see if it does that – we’re comfortable with saying, ‘Gosh, get it out of the lame-duck Congress’ hands,'” the freshman lawmaker said. “I’m just fearful after an election, folks who retired or got beat come up here and get to make very critical decisions.”
Conservatives are wary of what might happen in a lame-duck period beyond just the basic government spending.
Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), who was critical in getting tea party Members in line for this bill, told reporters Tuesday that if Mitt Romney wins the presidency in November, he will do everything he can to ensure that lawmakers do not approve anything of any budgetary consequence before the new Congress, which would be then guided by a Republican president. He demonstrated resignation over how he might try to rally conservatives if President Barack Obama wins re-election, noting that he’d be unhappy with whatever Congress would come up with before or after Obama is sworn in again.
How Senate Republicans set the tone for their House counterparts could prove formative.
For example, Rep. Tim Scott said his likely support of the CR was simply a pragmatic decision: This is what can get through the Senate, and so he is following their lead, he said.
“There’s no doubt that my conservative friends in the Senate have taken a position that simply says a clean [$1.047 trillion] number is digestible. So for us to not take that position seriously would be for us to not recognize the reality of Washington today,” the South Carolina freshman said.
The House is expected to vote on the CR on Thursday, and the Senate would take it up soon after. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have indicated they do not expect to take up amendments to a clean, House-approved measure.
House Democrats are largely expected to back the CR, giving Republicans enough wiggle room to send the bill to the Senate without the full support of the GOP Conference.
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), for one, said he is still leaning against it for a simple reason: “It goes beyond the budget that I said I would support.”