Election-year spending battles will test Speaker Boehner and Republicans

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is all but certain to face a divisive spending vote that splits his party right before the November elections.

President Obama’s warning that he will veto any spending bills based on the House Republican budget intensifies a fight with Republicans that will come to a boiling point in September, when Congress faces a deadline for approving a measure to fund the government.

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In all likelihood that measure will be a continuing resolution, but Boehner will be under pressure to forsake one in favor of the spending levels in Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) blueprint. Senate Democrats and Obama would be sure to object, which would set up a government shutdown showdown.

Conservatives already are making it clear they’ll pressure Boehner and Republicans to stand firm and that they would urge members to vote against a resolution that did not match the Ryan plan.

“I wouldn’t be surprised to see us do the same thing we did last year, which is that anything based on the [Budget Control Act] is unacceptable and if you are really serious about cutting spending you can only vote for the levels in the Ryan budget,” said Dan Holler of Heritage Action.

Andrew Roth of Club For Growth said his group would “definitely” oppose a CR that continued existing funding.

A fight within the Republican conference would come just as presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney enters the home stretch of his effort to oust President Obama. It would also stand in sharp contrast to the unity the caucus found in approving Ryan’s 2013 budget last month. The budget got 228 GOP votes.

Boehner may have some wiggle room, one GOP aide said.

A continuing resolution based on existing spending would be less than one based on the top-line spending levels of the debt deal.

Current spending tops out at $1.043 trillion this year. The August debt deal actually calls for more spending in fiscal year 2013 —$1.047 trillion.

As a result, the GOP aide noted that if the GOP approved a continuing resolution for the rest of the year based on current spending, it would not be going back on its call for spending to be reduced lower than the summer debt deal, which would authorize $4 billion more in spending.

Still, experts and aides said they expected Republicans objecting to a resolution based on current spending could be as many as those who opposed the minibus and final omnibus appropriations bills last fall. Eighty-six Republicans voted against the omnibus, while 101 Republicans voted against a minibus that included three appropriations bills.

A resolution that continued existing spending would be more than one based on Ryan’s budget, which sets spending at $1.028 trillion.

A Democratic aide said that the White House would likely love to portray Republicans as seeking to shut down the government over spending cuts.

“The White House would love that fight. It seriously tarnished the House majority’s image last time,” the aide said.

But the aide predicted Boehner is too savvy to allow that to happen, and would pass a resolution at current spending levels.

“Boehner does not want an appropriations fight. He wants a tax fight and a regulations fight,” the aide said.

Steve Bell, a former Republican Senate budget staffer now at the Bipartisan Policy Center agreed.

“The last thing in the world the Republicans would need at that time is that another case where Democrats can say Republicans are trying to shut down the government,” Bell said. “It is the worst possible moment.”

Romney could also have an outsized influence on the debate.

Steve Ellis of Taxpayers for Common Sense said that many House members would take cues from Romney, who would become the de facto party leader after the convention. If the Romney campaign wants quiet passage of a spending resolution at current levels, then many House members would comply, he argued.

Still, in the end, all races are local and individual Republican members still could be expected to vote against a bill that in their judgment did not cut spending enough, Ellis said.

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