In a major escalation of a slowly building fight over funding the government, the White House has warned House Republicans, in no uncertain terms, that the government will shut down in September if the GOP does not adhere to an agreement they cut with Democrats in August during the standoff over raising the nation’s debt limit.
“Until the House of Representatives indicates that it will abide by last summer’s agreement, the President will not be able to sign any appropriations bills,” writes Jeffrey Zients, acting director of the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, in a letter addressed to congressional appropriators Wednesday.The message is simple: The government will shut down just ahead of the 2012 presidential election if Republicans break faith with the debt limit deal.
The debt limit deal requires Congress by law to limit discretionary spending in next year’s appropriations to $1.047 trillion. During the debt limit fight, leaders of both parties and the White House understood that the government would be funded at this level for the next fiscal year — and moreover they had reached accord on how that money would be divided between defense and non-defense programs. Those agreements removed two trip wires, and appeared to greatly reduce the likelihood of a government shutdown in 2012.
But fast forward to this spring when, as we’ve noted in previous stories, House Republicans pledged to cut more out of discretionary spending programs in the next fiscal year than they agreed to last summer. Facing a rebellion from House conservatives, budget committee chairman Paul Ryan and party leaders cut deeper, setting a ceiling for discretionary spending that’s $19 billion below the cap in the debt limit deal, and cuts domestic spending even further to finance greater-than-agreed-to funding for the Defense Department.
According to Zients, the GOP blueprint calls for $28 billion in further cuts to domestic programs. On Tuesday, the House took procedural steps to lock their appropriators to those lower targets, prompting this pre-emptive veto threat from the White House.
The development sets up a confrontation between GOP leaders and their right-leaning rank and file members, who will rebel if Republicans blink and adhere to the debt limit caps. It could also force the GOP’s presidential nominee to choose between supporting his party’s conservatives, and abandoning them, fracturing his coalition.
Faced with a government shutdown one month before the election, and a public primed to blame the GOP for that outcome, Republicans will be under enormous pressure to back down.