Some more longtime lawmakers are trying the ease the tensions.
The junior crop, composed largely of those first elected in 2010 and 2012, have circulated petitions in the House and the Senate demanding that the annual funding bills for federal agencies be allowed to lapse unless Democrats agree to withdraw money to implement the health-care law. Senior Republicans have criticized this approach, telling their younger counterparts that the shutdown strategy is misguided, and blind to the policy and political ramifications of such a showdown with Obama.
It’s the latest skirmish in a battle among Republicans that has been raging for almost three years and has grown more pronounced in recent months along generational fault lines. On Capitol Hill, the younger GOP crowd has been clashing with veterans such as Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) over its more libertarian foreign policy, and now that group is challenging more seasoned Republicans on the tactics used to fight so-called Obamacare.
Nowhere is the battle more pitched than on the right flank of the Senate Republican Conference, where the chamber’s longtime conservative icon, Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.), is under fire from new GOP senators and outside groups led by the Heritage Foundation’s political arm.
“Their tactics are [a] failure. It’s a good way for them to raise money,” Coburn said in an interview Wednesday, suggesting that the outside groups are only looking for attention. “It’s a good way for Heritage to raise money; it’s a good way for others” to raise funding from activists.
Congress will adjourn Friday for a five-week summer recess and return just a couple of weeks before the Sept. 30 deadline for keeping federal agencies open. Senior Republicans have privately signaled that they want to avoid a clash over the federal budget, preferring to approve a short-term resolution that would fund the government at this year’s levels deep into fall.
GOP leaders have tried to avoid an open fight with junior lawmakers by not taking public positions on what they will advance in September. “No decisions have been made,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) told reporters Thursday.
But the clash was on full display in the Senate, where Coburn jousted with several Republicans who have led the push for holding the line and blocking federal funding for almost every agency. They are trying to rally conservative activists to pressure the party’s elder statesmen to join the fight before Sept. 30.
“We don’t have the votes, and we are unlikely to get the votes in closed-door meetings in Washington. The only way that we win this fight is if the American people rise up,” freshman Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.) said Wednesday in a conference call with Texas reporters.