By Scott Wong - 09/15/14 06:00 AM EDT
Fifty days before the midterm elections, Republican leaders are getting their troops in line as the GOP eyes something it hasn’t had in eight years: Control of both chambers of Congress.
On Capitol Hill, Tea Party insurgents who forced a government shutdown last year are playing nice with GOP leadership in the campaign’s home stretch in a bid to keep the heat on President Obama and off a sometimes-divided GOP caucus.
“This isn’t a fight that seems to be the most important fight right now, to quibble over a little here and there when [Senate Majority Leader] Harry ReidHarry ReidMeet the rising Dem star positioned to help Clinton on gun control Reid: Congress should return 'immediately' to fight Zika Classified briefings to begin for Clinton, Trump MORE won’t [negotiate] at all,” Rep. Michele BachmannMichele BachmannNo-shows at GOP convention Clinton camp: Trump VP pick is 'divisive,' 'unpopular' Lobbying world MORE (R-Minn.), generally a thorn in the side of Speaker John BoehnerJohn BoehnerDem drops out of race for Boehner's old seat Conservative allies on opposite sides in GOP primary fight Clinton maps out first 100 days MORE (R-Ohio), said of the stopgap funding bill to avert a government shutdown by Oct. 1.
GOP leaders say the rank and file is well aware of what’s at stake this November. They have their eyes on the prize.
If Republicans grow their majority in the House as well as picking up the six seats they need to take control of the Senate, they will be able to dominate the legislative agenda and dictate what gets sent to Obama’s desk.
“There is an understanding in the House, as well as the Senate, that if you had majorities that are in agreement in spending priorities, then the spending strategy really makes a difference,” Missouri Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntPoll: Blunt up 4 points in Missouri Senate race The Republicans' hypocrisy on minimum wage Overnight Energy: Officials close in on new global emissions deal MORE, a member of the GOP leadership team and a former House majority whip, told The Hill.
“You can slow down things, you can stop things, impact things in ways you can’t when the House and Senate are divided on what you can put on the president’s desk,” he added.
Examples of Republicans embracing the team concept abound.
House Financial Services Committee Chairman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) has put his efforts to kill the Export-Import Bank on hold — for now.
Neither did Republicans put up much of a fight over Obama’s request for $88 million in extra funding to combat the Ebola virus in West Africa.
And House allies of Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted CruzTed CruzHot air balloon crash kills 16 in Texas 100 days to go in volatile race Voting Trump because of the Supreme Court isn't enough MORE (R-Texas) have launched a campaign that is halfhearted at best to try to extend the must-pass funding bill or continuing resolution into 2015, when they argue the party could be in a stronger position to cut spending.
The only real hiccup in the march to approve a new spending bill has been the president’s surprise request for authority to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting against the terrorist group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
But many Republicans are calling for leaders to hold separate votes this week — one on the Syria provision and the other on the funding bill — to ensure both measures get passed promptly.
In an interview, Bachmann called for the House to send Reid “a continuing resolution and get that done and move on.”
Added Rep. Matt SalmonMatt SalmonLGBT fight dooms spending bill on House floor A hearing brought to tears over Right to Try legislation Time for national Right to Try legislation MORE (R-Ariz.), another staunch conservative: “I don’t want to see a government shutdown, at all. In fact, none of us want to see a government shutdown.”
A GOP leadership aide called last year’s shutdown a “disaster.” To repeat the mistake would not be a “winning ticket to capturing the Senate in November,” the staffer said.
Many had expected a showdown between House leadership and Hensarling over the Ex-Im reauthorization, which has pitted allies of big business against conservatives who deride the bank as a form of “corporate welfare.”
But in a speech last week, Hensarling pledged, albeit reluctantly, to support leadership’s short-term extension of the bank’s charter, which expires at the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
Lawmakers from both parties say the chairman would be in a much better position to eliminate the bank if he waits until next year, with GOP majorities in the House and the Senate. Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyDems urge treaty ratification after South China Sea ruling Lawmakers back bill allowing transit benefits to apply to Uber Memorial Bridge, ports among projects slated to get transportation grants MORE (D-Va.) said this would be a “very Machiavellian move.”
At the same time, Republicans are opening up leads in key races that will be critical to winning the Senate. Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellMuslim DNC speaker challenges GOP leaders to call Trump out Peter Thiel does not make the GOP pro-gay Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' MORE (R-Ky.) is leading Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes by as many as 4-8 points, according to recent independent polls.
Most polls show GOP Rep. Tom CottonTom CottonThe Trail 2016: Her big night Reid: Trump 'may have' broken the law with Russia remarks Senator slams Reid for 'dangerous game' on Trump briefings MORE leading incumbent Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorCotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm Top Democrats are no advocates for DC statehood MORE, the Arkansas Democrat, and Rep. Cory GardnerCory GardnerTim Kaine backs call to boost funding for Israeli missile defense Behind the scenes on Day 2 of the Republican convention Lobbyists bolting Trump convention early MORE (R-Colo.) is also keeping things competitive in his campaign to oust Democratic Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE.
Polls have shown Rep. Bill Cassidy (R) inching ahead of Senate Energy Committee Chairwoman Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuBrazile’s new role? Clean up DNC mess oil is changing the world and Washington Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-La.), though the two are expected to battle to a December runoff. The House gave Cassidy a boost last week when it passed his bill allowing Americans to keep their insurance plans under ObamaCare.
Republican candidates, aware of how quickly an isolated gaffe can end a Senate race, are acting cautiously around the media.
Asked why Republicans have managed to avoid a big fight over a stopgap funding bill this year, both Cotton and Gardner demurred.
“You know what, if you want to have a long conversation, call my office,” Gardner said.
“No comment,” added Cotton. “You should be an enterprising reporter and go dig up a source who will comment.”
Defending the Senate, Democrats have been praying for a Todd Akin moment. In 2012, the GOP Senate hopeful’s “legitimate rape” remark crushed his chances of defeating vulnerable Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire McCaskillDems begin ‘treason’ talk against Trump The Republicans' hypocrisy on minimum wage Watchdog faults Energy Department over whistleblower retaliation MORE (D-Mo.) and helped derail the party’s quest to capture the upper chamber that year.
Polls suggest the GOP has already come back from last year’s shutdown debacle.
The public blamed Republicans for the shutdown more than Obama and the Democrats, 53 percent to 31 percent, according to a poll at the time from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal. Of those surveyed, 47 percent said they wanted a Congress controlled by Democrats, but only 39 percent wanted it controlled by Republicans.
The numbers are much different today. Forty-five percent of Americans now favor a Congress led by the GOP, and 43 percent want it led by Democrats, a September NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed.
Democrats are daring Cruz to lead Republicans on another crusade to shut down the government. But they say even conservative hardliners in the House have probably learned their lesson.
“Generally people who put their hands on hot stoves learn from the experience,” Connolly quipped.