GOP freshmen uneasy about latest stopgap bill, lawmaker says

Freshmen Republicans in the House are increasingly worried that party leaders will back down on spending cuts and might oppose the latest bill to avoid a government shutdown, one lawmaker says.

Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-Kansas) said Saturday he will oppose a three-week continuing resolution from House Republicans to fund the government and signaled other freshmen may follow suit.

The three-week spending bill "could be much harder to pass than the last one" because it fails to make the cuts needed to slash the deficit, Huelskamp told The Hill.

The House is set to vote on the three-week bill Tuesday. It would cut $6 billion in federal spending.

If another spending bill is not passed by March 18, the government will shut down.

Although Huelskamp said he "appreciates the strategy of cutting a few billion [from spending] every few weeks," he said there's growing concern, especially among freshmen and members of the Republican Study Group, that lawmakers will fail to cut anywhere near the $61 billion approved by the House last month.

Huelskamp noted that the three-week continuing resolution (CR) contains funding for the healthcare law and Planned Parenthood, budget lines that many conservatives strongly oppose.

The most recent stopgap proposal “omits many of the priorities the American people demanded we pass,” including the elimination of some EPA regulations, repealing healthcare and defunding Planned Parenthood, he said.

The House-approved CR cutting $61 billion was rejected by the Senate this week. Talks are ongoing between the White House, Democrats and Republicans to strike a deal on a spending bill funding the government for the rest of the fiscal year. 

Democrats and Republicans remain about $50 billion apart on how much spending should be cut this year, and each side is pushing the other to take the next step.

Huelskamp, a member of the House Budget Committee, said the short-term spending bills are distracting lawmakers from the nation's pressing fiscal issues.

"We were elected to make bold changes to federal spending and to reverse our unsustainable deficits," Huelskamp said. "By allowing President Obama and Senator Reid to stall a budget they should have completed six months ago, we are being distracted from even bigger tasks.”

He warned that a drawn-out budget process could hurt Republicans who vowed during their fall campaigns to make sweeping cuts to federal spending. He said the temporary measures do not send the message that Washington is tackling spending and the deficit with a sense of urgency.

"We're losing ground every week," he said.

House Republican leaders on Friday unveiled the three-week CR in hopes of providing more time for negotiations on funding the government through the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) had said he didn't want the bill to contain language defunding public broadcasting or Planned Parenthood, which were included in the long-term CR passed by the House, because it would run into trouble in the Senate.

“This is simply an extension to give negotiators more time,” Rogers said.

The measure includes funding rescissions, reductions and program terminations totaling $3.5 billion, according to the House Appropriations Committee. The bill also eliminates $2.6 billion in earmarked spending from a range of agencies, according to the panel.

Senate Democrats have signaled that they could accept the measure, which includes proposed spending cuts backed by the White House.

“I am glad that we were able to come to an agreement with Republicans on a three-week continuing resolution made up of cuts already proposed by Democrats that will also be free of any ideological, special-interest legislation," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement. "However, we can’t continue to run our government two or three weeks at a time."

Several conservative groups expressed opposition to the short-term spending measure and warned lawmakers they would pay a price for supporting it.

"In 2008, Planned Parenthood vowed to spend $10 million to elect pro-abortion Democrats,” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said. “In return, Planned Parenthood was handed a healthcare bill that includes abortion funding as well as access to a slush fund containing billions of tax dollars.”

Heritage Action and the Club for Growth joined the Family Research Council in condemning the measure. Club for Growth President Chris Chocola warned fiscal conservatives they are walking into a trap.

“When the debt ceiling debate happens in a few weeks, the big spenders will offer a so-called 'compromise' in exchange for raising the debt ceiling and giving them a series of new credit cards," he said in a statement. "Such a 'deal' would be a complete sellout of America’s taxpayers, who deserve major spending reductions and structural reforms that will solve our debt crisis. Rather than going down that road to disaster, fiscally conservative House members should insist on more than a short-term CR now.”

The funding of this year's budget is the first of several major budget battles expected this year, with an increase of the debt ceiling also on the agenda.

Huelskamp said he doesn't expect the House will vote to raise the debt ceiling and said Republicans will need more than just assurances before agreeing to pass it, such as a vote on a balanced budget amendment.

- Erik Wasson and Molly Hooper contributed to this story.