Senior Republicans Used to Back Clean CRs to Avert Shutdowns

Lankford has sponsored a bill that would automatically fund the government for 120 days in the absence of appropriations bills. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Lankford has sponsored a bill that would automatically fund the government for 120 days in the absence of appropriations bills. (CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted October 4, 2013 at 1:20pm

Senior Republicans were for “clean” CRs before they were against them.

Conservative Republicans have been pushing “automatic” continuing resolutions going back at least to the 1995-96 government shutdown era. The idea was popular on the right because an automatic freeze of government spending would take a shutdown off the table, lessening the leverage appropriators had to increase spending or include extraneous items.

Indeed, a GOP bill — now sponsored by leadership’s sophomore darling James Lankford of Oklahoma, and once sponsored by the likes of Reps. Jeb Hensarling of Texas and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin and former Sen. Jim DeMint — would automatically fund 100 percent of the government for 120 days in the absence of appropriations bills. The bill would be “clean” in that it wouldn’t have any riders. But after 90 days, it would cut government by 1 percent for every 90 days there aren’t appropriations bills.

Republicans going back years have praised the idea as a way to prevent either party from exploiting a government shutdown.

“I don’t think either side should be exploiting this,” Hensarling said of the shutdown threat in an interview with Roll Call in October 2010. The Texas Republican sponsored the bill back then, and he’s a co-sponsor of the Lankford measure, which he confirmed he still supports.

On Friday, CQ Roll Call asked Hensarling if he felt Republicans had, in any way, exploited the threat of a government shutdown to extract concessions on Obamacare.

“Exploited?!” Hensarling asked. “What you’re asking us to do is to ignore what the majority of our constituents …” Hensarling said before trailing off. “It is a serious issue.”

He continued: “I would love to have the bill to take this on, but it’s kind of eleventh hour for the Democrats to come in and say, ‘We’ve never wanted your bill before but we’re willing to have it today.’ Fine, if they’ll sign on for it, then we can solve this problem.”

But while Hensarling was — and apparently is — for an automatic CR in the face of a shutdown, his floor comments on early Tuesday morning — just minutes into the shutdown, suggest he doesn’t want to give up the fight on Obamacare.

“This isn’t some little sideshow,” Hensarling said just after midnight. “This is what we do in the Constitution. The Congress has the power of the purse. It’s not the power of the rubber stamp. It is the power of the purse. Obamacare is about the purse.”

Lankford told CQ Roll Call on Friday that if his bill were “in place right now, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

“There is no inconsistency there,” he said, regarding his support for the auto-CR but his opposition to a clean CR.

Ryan, a co-sponsor of the Lankford bill, told Fox News in 2011 that automatic continuing resolutions were needed “so we do not have the specter of all these government shutdowns that create all this uncertainty and force a lot of bad decision-making at the last minute.”

The idea also had been pushed by Senate conservatives such as DeMint.

“Republicans do not want Congress to threaten the American people with a government shutdown,” DeMint said at a news conference in 2007. “There are many services, from national parks to the perceived threat of even losing a Social Security check, but that threat is used almost every year to create a crisis that will force Congress to vote on bills or continuing resolutions that has things in them that we shouldn’t be voting on.”

DeMint wasn’t the only notable Republican advocating the auto-CR at that news conference. So, too, was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said he was there to “enthusiastically embrace” the South Carolina Republican’s idea of auto-CRs.

“Sen. DeMint has a proposal which we all support, which we think makes sense,” McConnell said back in 2007.

Last week, McConnell voted against a clean CR, which continues spending levels at their current rate. His spokesman, Don Stewart, said McConnell “prefers that the appropriations process be addressed through individual appropriations bills rather than CRs. But when [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid and Democrats fail to do their job and move appropriations bills, he prefers CRs to government shutdowns.”

Regardless of McConnell’s enigmatic preferences, he and DeMint weren’t the only prominent Republicans to support automatically extending current spending to avoid a government shutdown.

But Democrats do see an inconsistency.

Contacted about this story, House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer said, “Republicans once said Americans shouldn’t be threatened with a shutdown or a created crisis, but that’s exactly what they’ve done by shutting down the government over the Affordable Care Act.

“House Republicans know that the only way to re-open the entire government is to bring the Senate’s clean funding bill to the floor for a vote,” the Maryland Democrat said.

But Republicans disagree. They say the only way to open the government is for Democrats to negotiate. They seem content to use the shutdown to extract Democratic concessions, even though they used to say the shutdown was no place for playing politics.

Asked about the new-found opposition to clean CRs from Republicans like DeMint — who, as president of The Heritage Foundation was a primary pusher of the defund-Obamacare-through-the-CR strategy — Heritage Action for America Communications Director Dan Holler said the explanation is easy.

“Obamacare changed things,” Holler said. “Obamacare changed everything.”