Without Dem help, GOP must pass spending bills on its own

House Republican leaders face a daunting task in the weeks and months ahead: passing a dozen spending bills opposed by Democrats.

Clearing the bills through the lower chamber will be a test for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and his whip team, which stumbled earlier this year.

ADVERTISEMENT
Last month, the House GOP easily passed its fiscal 2012 budget plan, 235-193. Every Democrat voted no, with only four Republicans breaking rank. Moving individual appropriations bills will be much more difficult, however.

Republicans acknowledge they can’t count on Democrats to pass their spending bills, with the exception of the defense measure — which usually attracts bipartisan support.

The stakes are high for GOP leaders, who repeatedly mocked Democrats for failing to pass a budget last year. 

With 240 Republicans in the House, GOP leaders can afford only a small number of defections to pass the individual bills. Some in the Republican Conference believe the spending limits are too high, while a few GOP centrists might vote no on various bills because they believe the allocations are too low.

Centrist Rep. Steven LaTourette (R-Ohio) said members of leadership have a “tough job ahead of them,” especially now that earmarks are banned in the 112th Congress. 

“You get nothing for your district, there’s going to be a bunch of amendments from the right trying to reduce the numbers even more and at the end of the day, it’s a vote for spending. So the best vote, in this climate, that a person could make is no, and hope that it passes,” LaTourette told The Hill. 

Without earmarks, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is “hamstrung,” according to another member, who requested anonymity. 

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the new anti-earmark policy “makes it more difficult for the [Republicans]” to persuade fence-sitting lawmakers to vote yes.

Michigan Rep. Candice Miller (R), a member of McCarthy’s whip team, disagrees. She defended the earmark moratorium, noting that the large freshman class would reject bills if they were loaded with legislators’ pet projects. 

“I just think that the mood in the conference is about trying to get the uncontrolled federal spending under control. Really, I think the appropriations process will be much different than the [fiscal 2011 debate],” Miller predicted. 

The whip team, led by McCarthy, got off to a shaky start after bills regarding the Patriot Act and United Nations fell short during separate floor votes in February. 

A couple months later, House GOP leaders boasted they could pass the final fiscal 2011 continuing resolution (CR) without any Democratic votes. Yet those predictions didn’t come true, as Democrats were needed to help push the bill to President Obama’s desk.

A GOP member complained that the 59 House GOP lawmakers who voted no on the CR didn’t take heat from leadership, while Republican members who voted for it received criticism from constituents. 

“The CR wasn’t good, it wasn’t great, but we had to pass the CR. And again, there were some Republicans that just got a free pass. There’s a lot of guys here who are taking these votes that put them in peril. But they are doing it because they realize that we’ve got to pass some of this stuff,” the member said.

Compared to fiscal 2011, spending bills on agriculture, labor-HHS-education, transportation and state-foreign operations are slated to take the biggest cuts. 

Hoyer said the cuts for fiscal 2012 are “very, very substantial,” which will make his job easier to keep Democrats in line. 

When asked how his bills will attract 218 votes, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) responded, “I’ll leave that to the whip organization.”

McCarthy’s office declined to comment for this article.