By Peter Schroeder and Bernie Becker - 08/23/13 07:46 PM EDT
Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) plan to push through a short-term government funding bill is already facing grumbling from conservative members of his caucus.
Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) and Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) both told The Hill on Friday that they would oppose GOP leaders if they bring up a short-term continuing resolution at sequester levels – and suggested there were many others who felt the same way.
“I don’t think there’s 218 votes there without Democratic help,” Meadows said.
Mulvaney said he understood the rationale behind the approach, saying that the debt limit is a "better battlefield" for Republicans than avoiding a government shutdown.
But he questioned the tactics, in which Republicans are pushing many of the biggest fights on the table, including efforts to stymie the president's healthcare reform law, back several weeks in an attempt to avoid a standoff that could be politically damaging to the party.
"In the past, when the House has been the weakest is when the House tried to anticipate what could pass the Senate," he said. "When the House was the strongest was when we passed good conservative bills out of the House."
Mulvaney is no stranger to bucking party leaders — he was one of a handful of conservative Republicans to not vote for Boehner to be Speaker at the beginning of 2013, and has opposed other measures back by House leaders, such as the farm bill.
But he said there were many members outside of the usual rabble-rousers who also expressed concerns.
"The opposition to the clean, short-term CR came from some unexpected corners. It wasn't just Raul Labrador," he said, referring to the Idaho Tea Party lawmaker who also is known to push back against GOP leaders.
If Mulvaney's concerns are emblematic of broader concerns among conservative House Republicans, it could be a sign that Boehner will yet again struggle to rally his majority around a contentious piece of legislation, and that a government shutdown could only be avoided with some help from Democrats in the minority.
A House Democratic leadership aide said that – while they would like to deal with the sequester in any government funding measure – they could probably live with a short-term CR that extends current spending levels.
But the aide added that Boehner is likely to need Democrats to execute his fiscal strategy, and that party lawmakers are going to want to ensure that the sequester cuts are applied equally between defense and non-defense programs.
Republicans have previously pushed to eliminate the defense portion of the sequester with deeper cuts to discretionary domestic programs.
“There has to be a discussion. They’re going to have to talk to us,” the aide said. “They’re going to have to talk to Senate Democrats.”
The staffer also said that Democrats were broadly opposed to combining government spending, the debt ceiling and the sequester into one larger fiscal brawl.
Still, that could be the end result if House Democrats do go along with a short-term funding measure that pushes the possibility of a government shutdown past the deadline for raising the debt limit.
“We all believe that the CR and the debt ceiling should be different discussions,” the aide said. “A sort of ‘fiscal cliff part 2’ – that is something that Democrats are not interested in.”
On a Thursday conference call with members, Boehner laid out a strategy for keeping the government funded beyond Sept. 30, when current spending measures expire.
He said he would like to advance a short-term spending bill that keeps lower sequester levels in place, but made no mention of other conservative priorities like defunding or delaying ObamaCare.
Meadows had spearheaded a letter to Boehner, signed by 79 other House Republicans, to defund the healthcare law through the appropriations process.
The North Carolina Republican told The Hill that other GOP lawmakers decided against signing the letter because they thought it locked them in to opposing any spending measure that included healthcare funds.
Meadows added that he thought it was a mistake to push back the fight over ObamaCare, given that state insurance exchanges open on Oct. 1.
“I believe that Sept. 30 is a critical time,” Meadows said. “If there’s a better strategy, I’m willing to look at it.”
GOP leadership aides say many ideas are still being discussed, but much of the focus is centered around seeking concessions when it comes time to raise the debt limit later in the fall, likely in late October or early November.
At that time, Republicans could push to delay several pieces of the healthcare law, including the individual mandate, according to aides.
Several conservative groups are making a concerted effort to put pressure on Republicans to demand a defunding of ObamaCare as part of a government spending deal, launching ads in many districts backing the idea.
Mulvaney suggested it may be having an impact as members spend the month of August back home with constituents, and Republicans could return in September more interested in a shutdown showdown.
"Any talk radio station that you get across my district, you get that ad three times an hour," he said. "It absolutely is having an impact … it was apparent on the conference call."
This story was posted at 3:46 p.m. and updated at 6 p.m.