Cantor warns against repeat of this spring's shutdown fight

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday warned against a repeat of the spring showdown over spending that nearly shuttered the federal government, saying voters were in no mood for more political brinksmanship.

Cantor said that House GOP leaders would stick to the top-line 2012 spending cap that both parties agreed to in the August debt limit deal, even as some conservatives are considering a push to reduce spending further.

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“We would try always to go below it, but I think the risk of bringing about brinksmanship or another potential shutdown is not something right now that we need,” the majority leader told reporters at his weekly press briefing. “It is not something that would be helpful to create jobs and breeding confidence, which is why I have taken the position I have.”

Cantor’s comments serve as a message to conservatives in the GOP conference who successfully pushed party leaders to increase their demands for spending cuts earlier in the year. Coming off the bruising debt limit fight, Republican leaders have resolved to take a more conciliatory approach – at least outwardly – with the White House, in the hopes of responding to voter anger and blunting President Obama’s criticism of Congress. Cantor has said repeatedly that voters are "sick of the rancor" in Washington.

The majority leader defended the GOP’s handling of the earlier spending battle, which brought the government to within a few hours of a shutdown in April.

“We believe strongly we ought to be reducing spending more than we’ve been able to,” Cantor said. "The other side has demonstrated an unwillingness to join us in that."

Funding for the year runs out on Sept. 30, and Republicans are now writing a continuing resolution that would keep the government open through late fall and give Congress more time to finalize appropriations for the rest of fiscal 2012. The debt limit deal included a cap on federal spending at $1.043 trillion, which was less than Obama’s budget request but more than what was called for in the GOP budget resolution.

“We did reach that agreement at the [continuing resolution] level and I am supportive of the [resolution] being written at that level,” Cantor said. He would not say whether the GOP would include additional policy provisions, known as riders, that were subject to dispute in the earlier spending fight. “All that is in discussion right now,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, the House appropriations chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) announced that the stopgap spending bill would include disaster relief for localities hit by the earthquake, Hurricane Irene, wildfires in Texas and other recent weather events. The Obama administration has requested $500 million in emergency funds for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. “I expect that we’ll be working to meet the president’s request through the [continuing resolution],” Cantor said. He noted that the House has already approved an additional $1 billion in disaster aid for 2011 that was paid for with off-setting spending cuts. The Senate has not acted on that bill.

Most of the relief funds needed for the affected regions are expected to be handled through the 2012 budget. The August debt deal included a provision allowing the spending cap to be lifted for disaster aid, and the president has requested an additional $4.6 billion through that process.