By Erik Wasson - 08/17/11 06:08 PM EDT
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) urged rank-and-file Republicans in a Wednesday memo to avoid brinksmanship in battles over Washington spending.
The message from the majority leader is an effort to prevent the kinds of fights over government spending that could lead to government shutdowns this fall if Congress cannot agree on legislation to fund the government.
Congress must approve a continuing resolution by the end of September to fund the government.
Cantor sought to place the blame for a struggling economy on President Obama’s policies, but he emphasized it would be critical for House Republicans to “do our best to minimize unnecessary uncertainty” going forward.
To do so, Cantor said House Republicans should agree to appropriations bills for 2012 that reflect the spending levels agreed to in the debt-ceiling deal reached earlier this month.
The majority leader acknowledged that many Republicans wanted deeper cuts, but he stressed that the agreement represented a real spending cut from current levels.
“While all of us would like to have seen a lower discretionary appropriations ceiling for the upcoming fiscal year, the debt limit agreement did set a level of spending that is a real cut from the current year level,” Cantor wrote. “I believe it is in our interest to enact into law full-year appropriations bills at this new lower level.”
The majority leader also urged his members to support the deficit supercommittee created by the debt deal. That panel is charged with coming up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts; if it fails, automatic cuts to domestic and defense spending would be triggered.
“I have heard some assert that certain sectors would be better off under the sequester,” he wrote. “I believe this is false and would unnecessarily induce more uncertainty and a worse policy outcome.”
Cantor wrote that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had made “strong selections” to represent House Republicans on the panel, and that he was confident it would be successful. He said it was “critical that their efforts enjoy the full support of our Conference.”
The creation of the panel has come under stiff criticism from some Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), a presidential candidate who called it a “dumb idea” that concentrates too much power in 12 members.
Cantor argued that businesses are sitting on piles of cash in part because of uncertainty about the direction of Washington policymaking. He also suggested that this uncertainty is leaving voters increasingly angered with their representatives in Washington. Polls show Congress’s approval ratings are at an all-time low.
“To be fair, few of my constituents are coming up to me and using the phrase ‘policy uncertainty,’” he wrote. “But they are talking about the mess in Washington, the constant sense — fueled by those maniacal countdown clocks on cable TV — that we are ‘THIS CLOSE’ to going over the cliff. People feel like they have no idea what Washington will or won’t do next.”
Obama also faces dismal poll numbers, but the president has been aggressively attacking Congress for holding back the economy. Democrats have been saying Republicans caused businesses to become skittish when the GOP threatened to allow the United States to default on its debt obligations during the debt-ceiling debate.
“It’s hard for Cantor to embrace policy certainty when, last month, his House Republicans argued that a debt default would only do minimal damage to our economy,” House Budget Committee Democratic spokesman Nu Wexler said of the memo.
Cantor in the memo said some uncertainty is to be expected with divided government, and uncertainty is better than permanent tax increases — something he said the Obama administration was demanding during the debt fight.
He blamed Obama’s policies for harming the economy, and invoked President Franklin Roosevelt, whom he said had lengthened and deepened the Great Depression with some of his decisions.
To help reduce uncertainty, Cantor said the GOP will focus on ending regulations and “stopping the discussions of new stimulus spending.”
President Obama and Senate Democrats are signaling that they want the supercommittee to produce a stimulus plan.
Rolling back regulations without a 2012 spending showdown with the Senate, however, may be tricky for GOP House members, as a major tool to try to limit regulations can be found in including policy riders in the appropriations bills.
This story was posted at 12:22 p.m. and updated at 2:08 p.m.