Despite taking a beating this week in the “fiscal cliff” showdown with President Obama and Democrats, conservative Republicans have vowed to regroup in coming weeks and redouble their efforts to rein in federal spending.
Rep. Devin Nunes, California Republican, who voted against the fiscal cliff deal Tuesday, predicted the next three months are “going to get really difficult” as Congress takes up the next big budget fight: the looming vote to raise the debt ceiling.
“At some point, Congress has to get serious about cutting spending,” he told The Washington Times.
Afterward, he said the passage of the bipartisan deal “certainly cannot be a start of a trend” if Republicans want to have any credibility on spending issues. He predicted voters will sour on the president and Democrats when they learn that the fiscal cliff deal does nothing to cut the deficit and, in fact, increases spending because of measures such as extending unemployment insurance payments.
The bill also did nothing to prevent the expiration of the payroll-tax holiday, which means most Americans will see take-home pay reduced this year by roughly $1,000 per household.
Rep. Trent Franks, Arizona Republican, said he expects the highly charged partisan battles to continue for the next four years, but added he still has “great faith in the American people” to elect more fiscally responsible leaders.
Mr. Franks dismissed suggestions the fiscal cliff fight gives Democrats momentum and bargaining leverage in future spending debates.
“Republicans … will have a clear opportunity to articulate that spending cuts should now be the priority — at least in the minds of the reasonable,” he said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid may have understood that better than most Democrats.
The Nevada Democrat reportedly wanted more concessions from Republicans than Vice President Joseph R. Biden was able to extract in the final fiscal cliff deal.
According to those familiar with the negotiations, Mr. Reid feared that kicking the sequesters — the automatic fiscal cliff cuts to defense and domestic programs that were supposed to be triggered Jan. 1 — down the road two months would simply set up another monumental showdown that would dovetail with raising the debt ceiling.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, who shares Mr. Reid’s views, told reporters Tuesday he has serious concerns about the fiscal cliff deal and whether it weakens the Democrats’ negotiating position ahead of the upcoming spending debates by taking higher tax rates for higher earners off the table.
Republicans now can train all of their fire over the next few months on Democratic opposition to serious, long-term spending cuts, the Oregon congressman said.
Some Democrats wonder whether “we have just institutionalized the squirrel cage,” he said, “because we’ve got other deadlines” coming up.
“We’ve sidestepped the opportunity for this to be major reform,” he said. “Some of us have concerns we’re going to be right back into this for the entire [new] Congress, and it’s not going to be easier to resolve. It’s very likely to be harder.”
Of course, plenty of Republicans also were unhappy with this week’s deal.
Although the House ratified the compromise on a 257-167 vote, Republicans opposed the final deal by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. Even at the highest levels of leadership, House Republicans were split.
“This is the beginning of this Congress getting really serious about cutting spending,” he said.
Mr. Boehner likely will be re-elected speaker Thursday, the first day of the new Congress. But the true test of whether he can continue to lead House Republicans will come in the next few months as his colleagues — and outside conservative pressure groups — react to how he handles the next phase of the debt-reduction fight.
The last few weeks have been a wild ride for Mr. Boehner. The Ohio Republican spent the holiday season being whipsawed by the most conservative elements of his conference. The speaker tried to appease the tea party wing of the party before Christmas with a vote to allow tax increases only on high earners making more than $1 million.
When that failed to attract enough GOP support, the speaker threw up his hands and handed control of the fiscal cliff negotiations to Senate Minority Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, who crafted the final deal with Mr. Biden.
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Susan Crabtree is an award-winning investigative reporter with more than 15 years of reporting experience in Washington, D.C. Her reporting about bribery, corruption and conflict-of-interest issues on Capitol Hill has led to several FBI and ethics investigations, as well as consequences for members within their caucuses and at the ballot box. Susan can be reached at email@example.com.
Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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