Can Republicans Stomach Funding The Obama Administration To Avoid A Government Shutdown?

March 2, 2011 5:15 a.m.

On Wednesday morning, the Senate will pass a short term spending bill to postpone a government shutdown until at least March 18. After that, it becomes a question of whether Republican and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate respectively can come to a longer-term agreement, to keep the lights on through September.

What’s already settled is that any such agreement will include spending cuts. What isn’t known yet is whose priorities win the day — which federal accounts get more money, and which get less. But more important than that may be whether rank and file Republicans in the House will be willing to vote for a spending bill that strips away their controversial policy priorities.

When the House passed a seven-month funding bill last month, it included scores of riders, which deny funding to the Obama administration to do — well, many things: implement the health care law, implement environmental regulations, the list goes on. Neither President Obama, nor the Democratic Senate are likely to accept most of them as part of a longer-term “continuing resolution,” and so the question now is whether those House Republicans will revolt.“I’m strongly pushing to have mine continue to be part of the final package because it got such an overwhelming bipartisan vote,” says Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), whose amendment defunding certain Obama administration advisory positions (or as Republicans prefer it “czars”) passed with the help of several Democrats.

Scalise says Republicans will fight hard to keep these provisions in the final spending bill, and then return again for the next budget fight to extract more flesh.

“Ultimately we know that the real battle is with the budget,” Scalise told me. “And however the CRs, short-term, long-term, playout, the real longer-term policy is going to be [addressed] in the budget in the next few months.”

The House GOP will have allies in the Senate pushing to include as many of these through as possible.

“[W]hat I’d like to see is us to adopt the House position,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters at a weekly Capitol briefing Tuesday afternoon. “There seems to be some reluctance to do that on the part of the administration and Senate Democrats, so we’ll keep talking about how to go forward…. I like what the House did. I think most of my members did as well. We don’t control the government, so we’ll see where we go from here after the two years.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid knows this will become a sticking point. “We’ll look at every one of them,” he said at his own press conference minutes later. “Those that I’ve seen are terribly mischievous and wrongheaded and one-sided.”

Certainly some House Republicans will suffer quietly as their riders get stripped away. It’s just a matter of how many.

Freshman Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-AZ) says he imagines Republicans will vote for the final spending bill, even if it doesn’t deny funds to the health care law.

“You’ll probably see us do our very best to defund it, but at the end of the day it does come down to the math, and were we able to change the direction of spending,” he told reporters during a House vote Tuesday.

“I don’t think there will be a lot of anger depending on what that topline dollar amount is,” he said. “That’s why they’re working on the 2012 budget…. It’s not like this was our only bite at the apple.”

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