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Fiscal Bracketology: Spending Bill Vote a “Play-in” Game for the House

This is a big day, both on the hardwood of the University of Dayton Arena and in the House of Representatives.

March Madness begins in Dayton. And the House is slated to vote on yet another temporary spending bill to keep the government open past Friday.

If the momentous vote to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year is the Final Four of Congressional action, today's House vote on ad-hoc legislation is like one of the play-in games today in Dayton, say between UNC-Ashville and Arkansas-Little Rock. The UNC-Ashville/Arkansas-Little Rock tilt will probably have little bearing on who wins the Big Dance in about three weeks. But NCAA play-in games usually make compelling basketball.

Such is the case with today's House vote on yet another temporary "Continuing Resolution" (CR) to fund the government until early April. This afternoon's vote may have little bearing on the endgame to halt the stopgap bills. But it will sure be interesting to watch.

Why?

Some fissures are developing among the Republican ranks for the first time since the GOP seized control of the House in January. Conservative interest groups are pressuring Republicans, particularly those aligned with the tea party movement, to vote against the CR. The House is expected to approve the three-week measure that slashes $6 billion and pays for government programs through April 8. But an array of organizations on the right, ranging from the Family Research Council to the Club for Growth, oppose the third installment of stopgap funding packages and demand that lawmakers vote no.

That's prompted some of the most conservative voices in the House Republican Conference to buck leadership and vote no today.

"They wanted a bold, decisive move on budget reform," said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS) of voters who elected him last fall. "I was at 26 townhalls in the month of February and they said ‘Are you kidding me? You've cut $60 billion out of $1.6 trillion? That's a good start, Tim. but there's a lot of work to do.' We've got some real heavy lifting to do."

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is also a no. Jordan chairs the influential Republican Study Committee (RSC), a bloc comprised of the 176 most-conservative members in the House. Jordan says he objects to running the government in "bite-sized pieces." He's also upset that the Republican leadership didn't add a provision to the legislation that would prohibit tax dollars from going to Planned Parenthood and didn't try to strike some controversial money that Congress already allocated to fund the health care law.

"We've made some solid first downs on spending. Now it's time to look to the end zone," Jordan said in a statement.

At least one GOP member involved in the party whip operation conceded privately to FOX that they wished their colleagues weren't e-mailing press releases that trumpeted their intent to vote against the package.

But another freshman Republican from a swing district was more vocal about conservative demands that lawmakers oppose the current leadership plan.

"There's always going to be a fringe group that disagrees," said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), who represents Staten Island. "I think anyone who's going to be unreasonable about this is going to end up not winning."

Grimm points out that Republicans only control the House, not the Senate and the White House. So that means the GOP can only do so much. And the public should be understanding of that.

"We have to caution those who are a little extreme," Grimm said.

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On Monday evening, Rep. David Dreier (R-CA) gaveled to order a meeting of the House Rules Committee to prep the latest interim measure for floor action today. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY) and Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Appropriations panel, hunkered at the witness table for the third time in a month to present the committee the latest blueprint for government funding.

"I regret that we are here before you once again," said Dicks.

"I'm sorry that you have to be here," responded Dreier.

"Every Monday I'm here," Dicks added later.

"It's like ‘Dancing with the Stars,'" quipped Rogers.

Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) told reporters he intended the new stopgap bill to be the final one of the year. But Rules Committee member Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) was skeptical.

"This is the third time up to bat. And I won't bet the house that it's the last," McGovern told his colleagues.

At the hearing, Rep. Rob Woodall (R-GA) queried Dicks as to what was the path forward for resolving the Democratic-Republican impasse."You have to get your leadership to engage. The Senate leadership must engage. The White House has to engage. This has gone on far enough," Dicks replied.

And Dicks indicated that the ultimate decision must come down to three people.

"At some point, the speaker, the president and the (Senate) majority leader will have to all get in a room and get a number. It has to be a compromise," Dicks added.

But there's no compromise in sight yet. And while there have been off-stage negotiations for weeks, there's no plan for the elite triumvirate that Dicks references to hammer out an agreement.

Which is why the House and the Senate are reduced to voting on a third temporary bill to avert a fiscal disaster.

"I don't like slouching toward the end here," said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the top Democrat on the Rules Committee. "This doesn't become us very much."

Leaders anticipate attrition in both the Democratic and Republican ranks when the CR hits the House floor later today.

Two weeks ago, 104 Democrats sided with the majority Republicans to help pass the last temporary measure. That figure is expected to dwindle today. On that same vote, only six Republicans defected from their party. But that number could climb significantly higher today. Several senior Republican sources said they couldn't begin to speculate how many GOPers might vote no. One hoped privately it wouldn't be more than ten.

With the House at 433 members and two vacancies, only 217 yea votes are required to pass a bill. That means Republicans could absorb up to 24 of their own defections without having to lean on Democrats for help to okay the package.

Few believe the measure would implode on the floor. But those opposed hope they're opposition could send a message that the makeshift tactics must stop now.

Which could make for an interesting vote.

Back at March Madness, it's likely that UNC-Ashville and Arkansas-Little Rock are outclassed by the likes of number one seeds Ohio State, Kansas, Pittsburgh and Duke. It's doubtful neither UNC-Ashville and Arkansas-Little Rock will leave much of an impression on the Big Dance.

But the play-in game will be intriguing to watch.

Just like today's play-in game in the House of Representatives.