Congress has avoided a shutdown over the budget for now. But a small faction of House Republicans is already tussling over how to position the party for the next round. House GOP appropriations leaders have released a draft bill to fund labor, health, and education for the 2012 fiscal year. While it’s still just a piece of the overall budget, it’s already making some battle lines clear. In fact, the bill’s biggest obstacle so far has come from within the House GOP itself.


At the same time, Rehberg’s $160.2 billion bill basically sticks to the debt-ceiling deal’s funding levels, placing it significantly above the $139.2 billion Ryan budget that the House GOP passed earlier — to the consternation of some fiscal conservatives. Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) both refused to pass the bill out of subcommittee because they believe the total funding level is too high. In fact, there are a handful of funding increases in Rehberg’s proposal: to public schools, Head Start, special education, unemployed veterans and health research — some at levels that are above what Obama requested back in February.

What to make of all this? Rehberg’s bill certainly has the blessing of House Appropriations Chair Hal Rogers (R-Ky.). “It reflects the Republican position on those issues ... it reflects the opinion of our members,” says the committee’s GOP communications director, Jennifer Hing. Certainly, the bill lays down one set of goalposts that could influence the 2012 budget that Congress must now pass to keep to government running after Nov. 18.

But this bill doesn’t necessarily represent what the GOP leadership — or all of the members of the Republican caucus — will end up pushing for in the budget negotiations. The House GOP leadership has yet to sign off on Rehberg’s bill, which isn’t scheduled as of now to come to the floor for a vote. And neither has the full House Appropriations committee nor the subcommittee on labor, health and education approved it. Both panels would normally have to mark up and pass the bill for it to reach the House floor. Rogers’s office says this is because “the timeline for appropriations bills is very compressed,” according to Hing, promising that “as we go forward all members will be able to have their say on the bill.” But conservatives like Flake and Lummis aren’t likely to be happy about the move, and some House Democrats have already denounced Rehberg for subverting the normal process.

Whether Rehberg’s bill comes up for a vote, it could be up to the House GOP leadership itself to decide exactly what they want in the budget. As I explained earlier, the ticking clock makes it likely that Congress will try to pass an omnibus bill that party leaders craft and then present to their membership. The Rehberg bill could influence that process. But it’s not the final word on what House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) or other GOP leaders will push for. Even if they do, Senate Democratic aides are already promising that it will be dead on arrival in the Senate. As Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) remarked when the bill was released: “It looks like we’re in for a long, difficult process.”