Back in August, the debt-ceiling deal seemed to put the brakes on another government shutdown fight. House Republicans leaders agreed to more spending in 2012 than they had been demanding in their own Ryan budget, in exchange for $900 billion in cuts right now and the $1.2-trillion-plus in deficit reduction. Instead, they agreed to a short-term, $1.043 trillion extension when appropriations funds expire on Sept. 30. Now House Speaker John Boehner is suggesting that the original agreement didn’t go far enough, suggesting that $1.035 trillion should be the target instead.
Does that mean that a government shutdown is again on the horizon? Not necessarily. Even conservative groups with a strong tea-party following don’t seem to be itching for a fight, at least for now.
Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform says it’s satisfied with the deal, pointing out that the next Continuing Resolution would decrease spending, if not at the levels it was hoping for. “The debt limit deal, while above the agreed-upon levels of the Ryan budget, still represents a cut in budget authority from 2011 levels. By the above metric, we would not oppose a CR set at the 2012 levels. Everyone agreed to that number a month and a half ago — this is now the landscape for future spending battles,” said Mattie Carrao, ATR’s government affairs manager. In other words, the group believes that there are bigger fish to fry — presumably the $1.2 trillion or more that will come in deficit reduction through either the supercommittee or the trigger.
FreedomWorks hasn’t gone as far as Norquist’s group in supporting the next CR, but the group isn’t yet gunning for a fight. “We’re going to have to watch to see how this plays out,” says Adam Brandon, communications director, describing the group as “neutral” and without an official position thus far on the 2012 budget. Brandon still warns that more conservative members could still rock the boat, even if the GOP leadership signs onto CR. After all, a handful of Republicans voted against the final debt-ceiling deal. “Don’t be surprised if you see some of these backbenchers rattling,” he says, warning that the group would be willing to challenge GOP freshmen who didn’t fight hard enough to reduce spending. Nevertheless, the group still recognizes the 2012 spending reductions achieved under the August deal as progress. “I think it will resonate as a good start,” Brandon concludes.
Even legislators who are itching for a 2012 fight will wait until the final details are released. If they do abide by the debt-ceiling deal, GOP leaders will have to reconcile the Ryan budget that passed the House with the $1.043 trillion budget agreed to in August, which caps security spending at $684 billion and non-security spending at $360 billion. The Ryan budget’s security spending is too high by $10 billion and non-security spending is too low by about $35 billion, according to Richard Kogan, a senior fellow at the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. One way that legislators could make up the difference for non-security spending would be to set spending levels at 5.1 percent lower than the 2011 budget, Kogan explains. Doing across-the-board reductions could help leaders from both parties avoid potentially contentious fights about which departments or agencies should have their funding cut.
Restive Republicans could still use the 2012 budget as a way to roll back regulations, attaching riders restricting abortion or EPA rules, as they’ve done in the past. But with much more at stake over the supercommittee and Obama’s jobs plan, they might choose their battles. “I think that the risk of bringing back brinksmanship or another potential shutdown is not something right now that we need,” House GOP Leader Eric Cantor said earlier this week, backing off the hard line from Boehner’s office. Why quibble over billions when trillions in spending are on the table?