Thune: Senate Republicans Might Escalate Gov’t Shutdown Fight

A member of the Senate GOP leadership says he and his colleagues could end up backing House Republicans in their efforts to fund the government at levels below those agreed to in the bipartisan debt-limit deal last August, increasing the chances of a government shutdown fight just weeks before the 2012 election.

“I think the Budget Control Act stated caps and lids,” said Sen. John Thune (R-SD) in the Capitol Tuesday. “It’s not necessarily floors. And if the House appropriators can mark bills that will come in at that $1.028 [trillion] level, then more power to them. Of course, here they’ve already agreed that they’re going to mark at the Budget Control Act levels, so that’ll set up some interesting discussions in the conference committee. But I think we’ve got to be as aggressive as we can in trying to rein in the cost of government, the growth of government.”The White House insists that it will hold House Republicans to the deal they struck last summer, and that President Obama will veto appropriations legislation that funds the government below those levels. Thune did not address that threat. Senate Republicans are less eager to pick this fight, but comments suggest they’ll back their House counterparts if the parties reach an impasse.

“I think our appropriators decided for the most part to mark at the Budget Control Act levels,” Thune said. “But I don’t think that would preclude anybody here in the Senate, on the floor or somewhere else, from offering amendments to go below that. I’m guessing you’re going to see a lot of amendments to go down to where the House numbers are as these bills work their way to the floor.”

At a White House background briefing for reporters Monday, senior administration officials reiterated their stance that they’ll reject any appropriations that violate the debt-limit deal, and accused Republicans of revising history by saying the funding levels they agreed to represented a ceiling on spending, as opposed to a bipartisan agreement on a top-line federal funding level.