GOP Conservatives Opt Against Shutdown Threat To Protect Election Hopes

Since taking over the House, GOP conservatives have routinely used must-pass bills as a vehicle to achieve policy goals. But despite spending months charging toward another government shutdown threat when funding expires on Sept. 30, right-wing members now appear to be willing to temporarily accept the status quo in order to protect the party’s hopes on Election Day.

A tentative deal announced Tuesday by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) would fund the government for six months at levels under existing law. A vote is slated for September.

“There was a drive inside conservatives who wanted six months instead of three months,” said House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who has close ties to the GOP’s right flank. “I don’t think there was ever a debate whether we’d get to a [continuing resolution].”Now, “no one can go back and say government’s going to be shut down,” he said Wednesday at a Washington breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

The tension is the product of an uncomfortable conundrum before conservative Republicans: either break their promise to shatter the status quo by accepting a business-as-usual deal that actually raises spending, or harm their party’s hopes on Election Day by risking a government shutdown in service of goals that won’t become law this year.

Faced with that choice, the right’s appetite to follow through and pick that fight dissipated, and Republican leaders expect their conservative members to accept the deal.

“Given that the six-month CR strategy was initially advanced by Sen. [Jim] DeMint, I think most House conservatives will ultimately support it,” a House GOP leadership aide told TPM.

With the fiscal cliff set for Jan. 1, McCarthy added, conservatives wanted to kick the spending battle further into 2013. “Six months gives a little longer time — some conservatives say if you put it out further not everything collapses at once,” he said.

Just weeks ago, the arch-conservative DeMint (R-SC) sent an unequivocal warning shot to House GOP leadership that another shutdown showdown would hurt the party in the election.

“I believe unless the Republicans in the House send us a [continuing resolution] that goes past the lame duck at the budget control levels, then we got a problem with leadership in the House,” he told Politico. “In September, we’ve got three weeks before the government shuts down. And I’m tired being up here and they put our backs against the wall or the government will shut down. Republicans need to make clear that we don’t want anything to do with a government shutdown. We are going to fund the government at the Budget Control Act levels, even though I think they’re too high.”

After the deal was announced Tuesday afternoon, the Club For Growth, a gate-keeper of conservative purism, admitted that the real spending battle would come after the election.

“There’s not much to like about a continuing resolution that funds ObamaCare, after Republicans promised they wouldn’t, and spends more than the Ryan budget,” the group’s spokesman Barney Keller told TPM. “It’s a given that Congress wants to avoid hard work before the election — the real question is whether they’ll do the hard work after the election.”

Photo credit: Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor