Published March 14, 2011
Congressional Republicans, notably freshmen elected on vows to cut spending, are getting fed up with the short-term budget bills that leaders on both sides of the aisle seem content to pass while wrangling over a spending plan for the last six months of the fiscal year.
"An absurd pattern has clearly developed in Washington," Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Tea Party-aligned freshman, wrote in a column Monday posted on the conservative blog Redstate.com. "I did not come to the U.S. Senate to be part of some absurd political theatre."
Lawmakers in early March approved a two-week stopgap that cut $4 billion from last year's levels. Now, they're preparing to vote on another stopgap, this one for three weeks, which would cut $6 billion.
But that only gets Congress a fraction of the way to the $61 billion in cuts Republicans called for this year and a fraction of a fraction of the way toward reducing the deficit. With the federal government lurching from short-term budget to short-term budget, a growing number of conservatives say it's time for a confrontation.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., while acknowledging the three-week extension is not the "ultimate solution," told "Fox News Sunday" he expects the upcoming bill to pass.
"I don't think we ought to let the government shut down," he said.
Rubio joins a short list of Tea Party senators, including Rand Paul of Kentucky, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Mike Lee of Utah, who already have expressed their discontent with the stopgap budgets. He said he would "no longer" back short-term budget bills, adding that Congress cannot "nickel-and-dime our way" out of the debt crisis.
Resistance on the Senate side is being matched by conservative ire in the House, where spending bills originate.
Fox News has learned that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the influential Republican Study Committee, will oppose the short-term bill, scheduled to hit the floor Tuesday or Wednesday. The study committee represents the bloc of the most conservative voices in the House -- Jordan's stance could open the door for others to follow suit in voting against the bill.
In a Tweet last week, freshman Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., already announced: "I will NOT be voting for another short term CR. There is a confrontation coming on this budget and the sooner we get to it the better."
And Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, said the debate is distracting lawmakers from much bigger tasks -- like tackling the $1.1 trillion deficit in President Obama's proposed 2012 budget.
"We were elected to make bold changes to federal spending and to reverse our unsustainable deficits," Huelskamp said in a statement, announcing he will vote against the three-week budget bill.
Huelskamp also complained that the short-term bill was leaving out provisions going after targets like Planned Parenthood and the health care overhaul -- policy matters some lawmakers would like to leave for another debate.
Even if congressional leaders aren't listening, unhappy Republicans are finding support among grassroots supporters and ideological partners.
Tea Party Nation, one of many national umbrella groups for Tea Party supporters, on Monday urged lawmakers to vote against the short-term bill unless a particular provision is included to strip billions from funding for the health care overhaul.
And in an open letter released Monday, Heritage Action CEO Michael Needham wrote that delaying the CR for three more weeks gives Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid the time he needs to conflate this year's budget with next year's.
"This has always been Senator Reid’s endgame strategy ... blur the lines, confuse the public and substantially weaken conservatives' negotiating hand on both the FY2012 budget and the debt-limit increase. Therefore, we believe conservatives must prevent him from executing this strategy if we are to start moving our country back towards fiscal responsibility," wrote Needham.
House Republican Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., tried to soothe his caucus Monday, saying the hope is that "this is the last time we have to do a stopgap measure."
But while Republicans say Democrats aren't offering serious reductions, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said Republicans are stalling negotiations by demanding "extreme cuts" to the budget.
"We agree that running the government two weeks at a time is not good for anyone, but it is the far right that is preventing any compromise on a long-term budget," Schumer said, calling the GOP defections a "bad omen" for House Speaker John Boehner's challenge of reaching a long-term spending agreement with Tea Party-aligned members.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, faced a mutiny last week when 10 Democrats and an independent voted against his party's budget proposal for the rest of 2011. On Sunday, he cautioned against making too big a deal of this year's negotiations.
"We're not going to balance America's budget in the next six months. We should be taking care that we don't do things that damage our economy and really slow down our recovery," Durbin told CNN's "State of the Union." He said lawmakers need to overhaul the budget and bring down the deficit "over a period of time."
But Rubio scoffed at Democrats' near-term proposal to cut $4.7 billion from the rest of the 2011 budget, saying that "only equals what our government borrows approximately every 30 hours alone."
Though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say reforms will have to be made to entitlements to make a serious dent in the debt and deficit, a recent analysis from the Congressional Budget Office suggests annual cuts to discretionary spending would make a difference.
The CBO estimated that if Congress cut 1 percent from discretionary budgets, including that of the Defense Department, every year, the savings would reach nearly $1.8 trillion over a decade.
While some lawmakers downplay the gains that could be realized from cutting discretionary spending, that part of the budget has grown significantly over the past 10 years. Since 2001, discretionary spending rose an average of 8.2 percent a year, according to the CBO report.