Key House conservatives say they can support measure to fund government

Conservative House Republicans on Wednesday signaled support for their leadership’s plan to pass a six-month government-funding measure that would reflect the budget cuts from the sequester. 

The stamp of approval — mixed with only tepid skepticism from a few members who have bucked Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in the past —increases the likelihood a government shutdown will be avoided after March 27, when the current stopgap funding bill runs out.

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“I have been here a long time and I have never seen a matter of this magnitude and had no one speak against it,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) told reporters after his plan was discussed at a meeting of the full House GOP conference.

“Everyone spoke for it that spoke. That is quite amazing to me,” Rogers said. 

The draft continuing resolution (CR) assumes the sequester, set to begin cutting government spending by $85 billion on Friday, is left in place, which conservatives see as a way to reduce deficits. 

It would not include controversial riders, such as a provision to defund the administration’s healthcare reform law that has been demanded by conservatives in the past. 

“The fact is that if we get the CR at the post-sequester level that is a big win,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), a conservative leader who recently stepped down as the head of the Republican Study Committee.

He and other conservatives said they could support the legislation even if does not defund “ObamaCare” or the requirement that insurance plans cover contraception. 

“I support the approach,” RSC Chairman Steve Scalise (R-La.) said Tuesday.

“I think all or most conservatives will be on board with doing that,” said Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-Idaho), who is also looked at as a leader of the party’s right wing. 

House Democrats are expected to oppose the resolution over the sequester, so GOP leaders are conducting a formal whip count before making the final decision on whether to bring up the bill next week as planned. They can afford only about 15 defections to pass it on GOP votes alone.

 Republicans see their strategy on the continuing resolution as giving them leverage with the Senate. 

Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said that passing the Rogers measure makes political sense, because if the Senate rejects it and wants to spend more, it will be responsible for shutting down the government after March 27.

Jordan said that the five-part budget strategy hatched by House leaders in January is working. The victories started when the House used the debt-ceiling increase to force the Senate to do a budget for the first time in four years.

“Conservatives are making a difference,” he said. After the House passed the “No, Budget, No Pay” law, “the next day Chuck Schumer finds Jesus,” he said, by agreeing to do a Senate budget.

Some conservatives said they are still hoping to defund Obama’s healthcare reform law through talks on the government-funding measure.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kan.), who was ostracized by leaders last year and stripped of two committee posts, said he is circulating a letter demanding leaders use the funding measure to defund the healthcare mandate.

But he said Tuesday that he does not know if the letter has gathered much support yet.

“I think this is a good place to stand,” Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) said.

But Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.), who is running for Senate and is a staunch opponent of Obama’s health measure, said defense spending — not healthcare reform — was the key concern for him in evaluating the continuing resolution.

“We’ve got to rip ObamaCare out by the roots,” he said. “We need to fund the military, and that’s bottom line for me.”

Past rebels Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) said they would study the bill before making a decision. McClintock said that if the sequester spending levels are maintained, he would be broadly supportive.

Rep. Dave Schweikert (R-Ariz.), who was removed from a committee post last year for bucking Boehner, said conservatives should not try to have a shutdown fight over healthcare next month.

“Look, we are winning by holding the numbers. We should embrace it and run with joy,” he said.

— Updated at 8:19 p.m.