WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders appear ready to reject calls from their right flank, led in part by Michele Bachmann, to insist on cuts so deep and unpalatable to Democrats that they’d likely to force a government shutdown.
News of the negotiations breakthrough came late Wednesday, less than 24 hours before a Tea Party rally on Capitol Hill (at which Michele Bachmann is a featured speaker) aimed at pressuring GOP leaders in the House to not just hold firm on their demands for $100 billion in cuts this fiscal year, but to go even further, including insisting that the health reform law be completely defunded as a condition of any deal.
Vice President Biden told reporters late Wednesday that bipartisan negotiators had settled on around $73 billion in cuts for the remainder of the Fiscal 2011 budget — another $33 million in cuts from the most recent continuing resolution but well below the $100 billion Republicans originally wanted. Biden stopped short of announcing a deal because details of how those cuts would be reach are still being ironed out.
“There is no reason why, with all that’s going on in the world and with the state of the economy, we can’t reach an agreement to avoid a government shutdown,” Biden said, “because the bottom line here is we’re working off the same number. This is — it’s about how.”
Current federal funding expires April 8, and several senior members of both parties said a deal would have to be reached this week, at least in principle, to meet that deadline without another short-term continuing resolution.
That framework agreement — which Biden took great pains to say was not a deal yet, because exactly what would be cut has yet to be agreed on — would likely not touch the recently passed health care law.
“Let’s put it this way,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi Wednesday afternoon, “the health-care rider is not one that will be in any bill that will be sent to the president and that the president will sign.”
To Tea or not to Tea
Bachmann and others in the Tea Party Caucus have insisted on not passing a single federal spending bill without at least guaranteeing $100 billion in cuts as expressed in the GOP’s campaign manifesto, as well as a complete rescission of $105 billion already authorized to fund the health reform law and more policy-oriented riders like blocking funding from Planned Parenthood.
The Tea Party Patriots, in an announcement on their website promoting their rally, said it’s “time to make a stand and put the screws to the Washington establishment.”
“Patriots across the nation spoke loudly last November. You voted for change. You voted for real fiscal leadership,” they wrote. “Unfortunately Washington doesn’t get it. President Obama and the Reid Senate continue to ignore the fiscal crisis while the House dithers around the edges of spending cuts. We need bold leadership and we need it now.”
Asked earlier this week which way House GOP negotiators should lean — toward a deal with Democrats or toward the Tea Party position — Bachmann said the choice was simple.
“There’s an old phrase that says, ‘Dance with the one who brung you,'” Bachmann said, noting that Tea Party activists helped push Republicans to retake the House. “Remember why we’re here, who we serve, and what the principles are of the people who sent us here and are we holding to them.”
Bachmann, Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert and Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston introduced legislation Wednesday to rescind already-authorized funding in the health reform law, and force the White House to get annual budgetary approval for implementation spending (which they would invariably fight tooth and nail against).
Variations on this legislation have been introduced in several different iterations already this year. Most notable among them was HR 2, a bill to repeal the entire health reform law, which cleared the House on Jan. 19. The Senate has so far refused to take up the measure, and Democrats in that chamber have said they won’t consider a repeal or defunding measure as part of budget talks.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California called the Tea Party Caucus stance of “my way or the highway” as she described the demands made by Bachmann and her allies as immature. “It’s not budgeting, it’s a political vendetta.”
Difference between passing and insisting
It should be pointed out here that Republicans have already passed sweeping budget cuts through the House (which the Senate later voted down).
Theoretically, those already-approved cuts could provide some political inoculation against Tea Party attacks from the right, as House Speaker John Boehner and other Republican leaders can say (quite correctly) that they already passed a health care law repeal through the House, and steered major discretionary spending cuts through as well.
Two continuing resolutions have passed so far — the second one requiring Democratic votes to make it through the House — and so a relatively clean bill would likely have enough Democrats willing to come over and vote for it, several Democrats said.
“I told some of my Republican friends that there are some of us on this side of the aisle who are willing to vote for more cuts, as long as they don’t attach these riders,” said Rep. Collin Peterson.
But what Bachmann, Gohmert, Kingston and their allies realize is that Republicans, by holding the House majority, effectively have an effective pocket veto in the budgetary process. And passing statement bills they know will fail in the Senate but not insisting on defunding in the must-pass bills isn’t acceptable for the Tea Party wing.
“We promised people that we would vote to repeal Obamacare, and that we would do everything we could to defund Obamacare,” Gohmert said. “If this type of thing is not part of the CR, then we are not really living up to our promises to do all that we can.”
And that’s why they’re having a rally.