House GOP Aide: Republicans to Fight on Debt Ceiling Bill

By Matt Cover | March 16, 2011 | 4:21 PM EDT

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., speaks to people gathered at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Sunday, Sept. 12, 2010 for a "Remember in November" rally to express opposition to government spending. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Washington ( – House Republican leaders are reassuring their own party that supporting short-term continuing resolutions to keep the government going does not mean they are giving up the fight on broader spending cuts and reforms, claiming that they plan to take a stand over the upcoming debt ceiling increase.

According to a conservative GOP aide, House leaders told disgruntled conservative caucus members that passing so-called clean, short-term spending bills was part of a broader strategy to force Senate Democrats and the Obama administration to accept substantial spending cuts and reforms.

Many conservative House Republicans – eager to cut federal funding for Planned Parenthood and Obamacare – have become frustrated with the lack of progress on a spending plan for the remainder of fiscal year 2011.

The House originally passed a long-term spending bill, H.R. 1, which included a partial defunding of Obamacare along with an end to Planned Parenthood funding and a host of other spending cuts.

Those extra spending cuts made the bill a non-starter for liberal Senate Democrats, who defeated the legislation last week. Some House conservatives, such as Reps. Mike Pence (R-Ind), Steve King (R-Iowa), and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), have called for their leadership to use short-term spending bills to force Democrats and the White House to accept deeper cuts and to specifically halt the ongoing funding of Obamacare.

Because the Senate rejected the House plan, House GOP leaders have offered two successive short-term spending bills in an effort to give them time to negotiate a longer spending bill with Senate Democrats and Obama. Those short-term bills have been “clean” or free of the amendments, such as defunding Obamacare, which House conservatives want.

Bachmann, King, and Pence have all pledged to vote against the latest three-week spending plan because it is not being used as leverage against Democrats and the White House on the defunding issues, permitting, for example, $105.5 billion in Obamacare spending to continue.

According to the GOP aide who spoke to, most freshmen have accepted the GOP leadership’s strategy and will vote for the three-week spending bill. Apparently, only a “core group” led by King, Bachmann, and Pence were willing to buck the leadership and vote against the bill.

However, in the actual vote on Tuesday, with the resolution passing 271-158, some 54 Republicans voted against the GOP leadership in opposition to the bill. In the last continuing resolution two weeks ago, only six Republicans voted against the GOP House leaders.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn. Speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Friday, Feb. 19, 2010. (Associated Press/Cliff Owen)

The aide confirmed what was already apparent: that House Republican leaders were “not willing” to fight for shutting off the $105.5 billion in automatic spending that had been allocated in the Obamacare law.

Last Thursday, King and Bachmann sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) asking them to include language in any future CR that would prohibit the administration from spending any money to implement Obamacare.

The legislative language that King and Bachmann proposed would not only prohibit normal appropriations from funding Obamacare but would also prohibit the administration from carrying out $105.5 billion in spending that, according to the Congressional Research Service, was built into the Obamacare legislation in such a way that it will be automatically spent unless Congress affirmatively prohibits the administration from spending it.

Despite that letter and proposal, Cantor told reporters on Monday that House committees – not the continuing resolution bills – were going to take the lead in cutting off the automatic spending, a plan that the GOP aide said would go nowhere, because Obama would not sign a stand-alone bill that shut off the programs.

The aide, who disagreed with the leadership’s strategy, said that by not fighting for conservative priorities now, Cantor and Boehner were doing the same things that had led Republicans into the minority before.

“Leadership is taking Republicans down the path that led them into the minority,” the aide said.

The debt ceiling is the legal limit on the amount of federal debt the Treasury Department may have outstanding. Currently, the debt limit is $14.29 trillion. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has estimated that the federal government will reach this limit sometime between April 15 and May 31 of this year.

Cantor told reporters on March 2 that Republicans would wait until at least mid-April before taking up the debt ceiling issue.