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Conservatives’ ire over stopgap spending presages budget wars to come

Trump-backed Republicans pushing for harder line on fiscal issues

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, has already tangled with NRSC Chairman Rick Scott, R-Fla., over midterm strategy and Republican priorities for the next Congress. Now Scott is pushing for a “clean” stopgap spending measure that runs into January.
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., left, has already tangled with NRSC Chairman Rick Scott, R-Fla., over midterm strategy and Republican priorities for the next Congress. Now Scott is pushing for a “clean” stopgap spending measure that runs into January. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Rising GOP pushback against a short-term stopgap funding bill into December that would pave the way for a lame-duck omnibus package is at minimum a political headache for party leaders, and at worst points to market-rattling brinkmanship around fiscal deadlines next year.

A small group of Senate Republicans and larger number of conservatives in the House backed by former President Donald Trump are opposing the general plan to run a continuing resolution to mid-December. Their general view is that the House at least will change hands, with the Senate a possibility as well, and final decisions on fiscal 2023 spending should wait until early next year when the new majority is seated.

The House Freedom Caucus and broader Republican Study Committee have already issued missives opposing a short-term spending bill or omnibus deal. As RSC Chairman Jim Banks, an Indiana Republican, put it in a memo last week: “Voters will have fired Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, but she will still decide all government funding for” fiscal 2023.

On Thursday, Freedom Caucus members rallied outside the Capitol to urge their party’s leaders to whip against any short-term stopgap that doesn’t run into early next year.

They said Republicans need to be able to shape the budget to deal with priority issues like the southern border, lowering energy costs and ending COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Freedom Caucus members also pointed to FBI funding, slamming the agency for an August raid of Trump’s Florida residence, Mar-a-Lago.

“Republicans are going to take back the House,” Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa., said. “In light of that, why would Republicans cast one vote in favor of this tyranny?”

Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who heads the Senate GOP’s campaign arm, has also argued for a “clean” stopgap bill that runs into January.

“If there are important issues, don’t just throw it on a CR and give it to us in the last hour,” Scott said in an interview. “Let’s vote on those. Let’s start acting like legislators.”

Scott and fellow Republicans Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah wrote a Fox News op-ed earlier this week arguing for a clean stopgap extended into next year. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., also favors punting temporary spending into next year.

On Thursday, Trump issued a statement backing the group’s efforts and criticizing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell for working with Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer to pass a short-term bill, although McConnell hasn’t publicly expressed a preference.

“Finally, some Republicans with great Courage!” Trump wrote in an emailed statement. “Rick Scott, Ted Cruz and Mike Lee are working hard to stop Chuck Schumer and his favorite Senator Mitch McConnell from ramming through a disastrous” short-term bill.

Jenny Beth Martin, honorary chairman of Tea Party Patriots Action, a nonprofit conservative activist group, wrote to senators in a letter dated Sept. 9 urging a “no” vote on any stopgap bill that ends during the lame duck session.

But numerous other GOP senators prefer a CR running into December or have no preference.

Alabama Republican Richard C. Shelby, ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Susan Collins of Maine, who will be the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee after Shelby’s retirement, favor December. So do John Boozman, R-Ark., Roger Wicker, R-Miss., and Thom Tillis, R-N.C. And Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said December would be fine.

“We’re in this Congress. We’re sent here to do our jobs,” Shelby said Thursday. “We shouldn’t kick the can down the road, because you never know where the can is going to land.”

Others who expressed no preference include Mike Braun, R-Ind., Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Rand Paul, R-Ky., John Kennedy, R-La., Roger Marshall, R-Kan., and Bill Cassidy, R-La.

Little effect, for now

Democratic appropriators have proposed an end date of Dec. 16, which they hope will provide enough time to reach agreement on an omnibus.

The push for delaying action on an omnibus until next year may have little effect on the end date of the stopgap, since House Democrats may be able to pass the funding extension with little if any help from Republicans. And Republicans will have to reach agreement with Democrats in the Senate.

But the internal GOP disagreements presage further challenges ahead if Republicans win control of the House or Senate. Previous GOP Speakers John A. Boehner of Ohio and Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin faced monumental difficulties in rallying enough Republicans behind some spending bills due to objections from conservatives.

Demands from tea party-backed freshmen and others led to a series of stopgap bills that cut spending in early 2011, almost led to a partial government shutdown, and then resulted in a CR for the rest of the fiscal year for every agency but the Defense Department — with no earmarks.

Later that year, a debt-ceiling standoff with President Barack Obama led to more spending cuts and almost caused the Treasury Department to run out of funds to finance government commitments. Two years later, the government shut down for 16 days.

Contrasting styles

There’s little sign at this point that McConnell’s position as GOP leader is in danger, and it’s not even clear that Scott would seek to supplant the veteran Kentucky legislator.

But the two have already tangled over midterm campaign strategy as well as GOP priorities in a new Congress.

After Scott issued an “11 Point Plan to Rescue America” earlier this year, McConnell pushed back against two of the points — one that would require every American to pay some federal tax and one that would insist that all federal programs including Social Security and Medicare be up for reauthorization every five years.

Scott has since tweaked the plan by removing the stricture for every American to pay taxes. But he kept the provision saying “all federal legislation sunsets in 5 years.” The plan also calls on Congress to issue a report every year “telling the public what they plan to do when Social Security and Medicare go bankrupt.”

Scott said that in his view, the GOP’s most immediate priorities if Republicans take control are to secure the border, stop inflation, get the federal government out of involvement in public schools, fund law enforcement and “make sure our military’s not woke.”

He also proposes to balance the budget, which he said can be done in a year. “You make choices,” Scott said. “Up here, the only choice they make is how much more money they’re going to spend. We do every priority and then we wonder why we don’t live within our means.”

The contrast between McConnell and Scott could come to a head when lawmakers next have to deal with the debt ceiling, which now stands at nearly $31.4 trillion after a complicated deal McConnell cut with Democrats late last year.

McConnell was one of 14 Republicans to vote for cloture on a law that carved out an exemption from the legislative filibuster for raising the debt limit. Scott was among the 36 Republicans voting against cloture.

The borrowing cap was then raised by $2.5 trillion separately on a party-line vote, but McConnell nonetheless took heat from Trump and other hardliners for letting it happen without forcing spending cuts.

In a separate statement Thursday, Trump took further aim at McConnell for allowing the debt ceiling deal to go through last year: “The Republican Senate must do something about this absolute Loser, Mitch McConnell, who folds every time against the Democrats — and he’s only getting worse!”

If Republicans were in control of the House, there are real questions over how a potential Speaker Kevin McCarthy would cut a debt limit deal. The legislation paving the way for the filibuster-proof debt limit vote got just one GOP vote in the House, from retiring Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger.

The Bipartisan Policy Center has estimated that lawmakers will need to raise the debt limit again sometime in the second half of next year, though that was before expensive new policies took effect, like President Joe Biden’s student loan cancellation plan.

Lindsey McPherson, Laura Weiss and Aidan Quigley contributed to this report.

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