Newt Gingrich questioned House GOP leaders' approach to the spending fight in Congress Tuesday evening, arguing that they should push harder for deeper spending cuts.
Gingrich, the Speaker of the House in the 1990s, said that House Republicans hadn't failed, but publicly pushed them to do more to rein in spending.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said GOP leaders agree that the Republican goal should be to cut spending to help create an environment for the private sector to create more jobs.
House Republicans have cut $10 billion in federal spending over the past five weeks through a series of short-term spending measures, and have cast the cuts as good for the private sector. They wish to ax another $51 billion from the budget the rest of this fiscal year, and cut additional spending in next year's budget.
But those cuts haven't satisfied many of the most conservative members of the GOP, including a number of lawmakers who defected in last week's vote on a three-week continuing resolution. Those conservatives, often allied with the Tea Party movement, have called for heftier cuts and urged leadership to gird for a shutdown if necessary.
House leaders are now feeling the pressure from some Republicans who would hope to be the party's standard-bearer in the 2012 election.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin said earlier this month that the budget needs "much greater cuts" than what's been proposed by House Republicans.
Others, like former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, have urged House Republicans to consider forcing a government shutdown — which would occur if lawmakers cannot reach a spending agreement by April 8 — if they can't reach a satisfactory agreement with President Obama on spending.
"I don’t understand the fear that’s involved," Gingrich said of House Republican leaders' insistence that they're uninterested in a government shutdown.
The debate over this year's budget has focused on domestic discretionary spending, with the White House and Republicans now battling over about $50 billion. The stakes are expected to rise higher when Republicans release a budget for the 2012 fiscal year that promises to tackle entitlement spending.
"We agree the American people are ready for bold leadership, and that’s what they’ll get when we release our budget, which will address entitlement reform and lead where the president's job-destroying budget has failed," a GOP leadership aide said.
The aide also said Gingrich faced a different situation when he battled President Clinton in the budget fights of the 1990s.
"Remember that we only control one-half of one-third of the federal government now," the aide said. "In the 1990s, the GOP controlled both the House and the Senate, so the dynamic was very different."
"I wonder, when people say to me, 'Boy, that was really politically expensive,' my question is to who? Our base wanted somebody who was serious, and this is part of what’s going on in the country right now," Gingrich said. "People are serious about controlling spending. They are serious about repealing ObamaCare. They are serious about returning power to the states through the 10th Amendment."
This story was posted at 6 a.m. and updated at 8:57 a.m.