Conservatives urge Cantor to push spending fight into 2013

House conservatives urged Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) to back a stopgap spending bill that would extend into 2013 and take the issue of government funding off the table during the election and the jammed lame-duck session this fall.

Cantor attended a meeting Wednesday of the conservative Republican Study Committee, where lawmakers voiced support for passing a long-term continuing resolution when federal funding runs out at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

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While conservatives led a fight for deep spending cuts in a continuing resolution in 2011, they are worried that Democrats will draw them into a battle that could lead to a government shutdown in October, right before the November elections. They also want a stopgap measure to extend beyond the end of the year so that Democrats cannot use it as leverage in a broader fight over expiring tax rates and automatic spending cuts.

The goal of a continuing resolution that would last up to six months is to “take the issue out of Harry Reid’s hands,” one GOP aide said, referring to the Democratic Senate majority leader.

Deciding the bulk of 2013 federal funding after Jan. 1 could also allow conservatives to wait for a new Republican president and GOP control of the Senate, if the party is successful in November.

Two leading members of the Republican Study Committee, Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio), and Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.), are supportive of the idea. The conservatives are willing to consider higher spending levels than they have voted for in the past to get a long-term continuing resolution, the aide said.

No one in the meeting stood up to express support for a government shutdown fight in September, the aide said.

Freshman Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) also said conservatives might be willing to accept provisions in a stopgap spending bill that they otherwise would oppose, such as continued funding of the 2010 healthcare law. Conservatives have previously urged the Republican leadership to keep fighting to defund the law in appropriations bills.

Cantor heard lawmakers speak about a variety of issues, with members voicing the fear that pushing a host of major items to the lame duck session would force them to take votes with little debate or notice.

The chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), favors a three-month funding extension based roughly on current spending levels, which is $1.043 trillion. That level is higher than the level approved in the House GOP budget, $1.028 trillion. A three-month bill would force Congress to tackle the funding issue again during the lame duck session after the election.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), the Democratic whip, noted that Senate Republicans have, for the most part, already endorsed the $1.043 trillion level. He predicted that House GOP leaders would follow suit.

"The Republicans do not want to shut down the government, they do not want to have a confrontation in September," Hoyer said during a breakfast in Washington sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.

"I think we'll probably do a CR. I don't know what the time-frame will be," he said. "I don't necessarily have a preference, although I think that I would certainly not be opposed to a six-month [extension]." 

Hoyer added that any extension at current spending levels is "probably not a bad deal for us [Democrats]."

— Mike Lillis and Erik Wasson contributed.