House Republicans will face noticeable defections from the right flank of their party when they vote Tuesday to fund the government for three more weeks — a stopgap measure meant to buy time while leaders of both parties work out a longer-term solution.
But the mini-revolt won’t throw the government into turmoil. The last “continuing resolution” passed the House two weeks ago with almost 340 votes, including over 100 Democrats, and barring major, unexpected defections from both parties, should pass again handily.
“I think in the end the Speaker will work out their differences,” said Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) — a freshman, and former House member, who Monday night told reporters he is inclined to support the spending measure. “He is very used to how the House ran under previous Republican speakers, of walking on the floor 20 votes short and picking them up on the floor.”
If anything, today’s situation is significantly less dire than that. “Everything is a lot less dramatic than it looks,” Kirk said.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will face similar defections from the right flank of his party, too, when the CR arrives in the upper chamber. Yesterday he stipulated that it will be difficult to pass, but the right thing to do.
“I think Senator McConnell as well,” Kirk added. “He is very much astride the leadership of our caucus and I think he’ll be able to command what he needs.”
Conservative defections like this can serve a messaging purpose for Republican leaders. When the right flank of the GOP bolts from legislation, it buys Boehner and McConnell the ability to claim that they’ve already compromised. This is what happened last week when McConnell twisted arms in his caucus to make sure all of his moderates were on board with an extremely controversial House spending bill, but allowed defections from conservatives Jim DeMint, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul. And that legislation would have cut over $60 billion in domestic discretionary spending over the course of six months. Affixed to it were of policy riders, including measures that would have defunded planned parenthood, the implementation of the health care law, and many, many other executive branch prerogatives. Not a moderate bill by any stretch of the imagination.
But this sort of orchestration can go too far. If enough conservatives begin to break ranks from Republican leaders, they’ll be forced to actually move in the Democrats’ direction, or face a government shutdown at some point this year. Here’s how conservative Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) explained it to reporters last night.
I’ve learned that more often than no things don’t change until they have to. Until you reach an impasse. And then real negotiations begin…when the board lights up and they don’t have the votes and then they need to come to you and talk about it. Nobody wants a government shutdown, but if we don’t take decisive action to change the fiscal direction of the national government, we’re going to shut down the future for our children and grandchildren.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.