Such an agreement probably would be acceptable to Senate leaders and President Obama as long as the House didn’t impose funding restrictions on certain social and regulatory programs supported by Democrats, Senate and administration aides said.
After 54 conservatives voted against a stopgap budget measure two weeks ago that passed with significant Democratic support, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) met with a conservative bloc of Democrats to discuss potential common ground on the budget and other pressing fiscal issues.
Asked Wednesday morning about meeting, McCarthy acknowledged that it took place but suggested its main purpose was to look at longer term budget issues, particularly entitlement reform.
“The Blue Dogs had asked to meet with me when I got elected Majority Whip,” McCarthy said. “I sat down and had a meeting with them after the [March 15 vote], so it wasn’t about that. What I want to talk about with the Blue Dogs is if they’re serious about saving these entitlements ... and the budget going forward.”
On Tuesday, Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) suggested McCarthy had requested the meeting. Shuler, a centrist Democratic leader, said McCarthy did not specifically ask for Blue Dog votes on any legislation, saying that the conversation was taking place at “10,000 feet” and that the Republican was “feeling us out.”
The Democrats left the meeting knowing that they could provide the decisive votes, Shuler said, a role they are willing to play. “We’re looking for ways to help,” he said. “We’re for real. We’re not here for the politics.”
The fact that Republican leaders have initiated talks with some Democrats shows some division within House Republicans just two months after taking over the House. Speaker John A. Boehner’s leadership team recognizes that legislation that meets with approval from his most conservative flank — what Democrats call the “perfectionist caucus” — would be dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
At the same time, conservatives have become increasingly unhappy with recent spending proposals, saying they wouldn’t cut deep enough.
A deal with Democrats could avoid a government shutdown and point the way for future compromises. But it also could come at a steep price for Republican leaders who risk the ire of some conservatives, including those who are attending a tea party rally Thursday on Capitol Hill to demand the deepest spending cuts possible.
What many leaders in Washington may consider a sensible compromise to ensure that the government keeps running is just the sort of dealmaking that many Republican voters view as unprincipled capitulation. Some tea party groups have promised to target any Republicans they think are not conservative enough on fiscal issues.