* Little gain seen in bloody pre-election shutdown fight
* House Republicans eye short-term extension for government
* Fiscal conservatives demand longer extension into 2013
By David Lawder
WASHINGTON, July 18 Members of the U.S. Congress
may not want a bruising government shutdown fight just weeks
before November's elections but there are some early signs,
worrying to senior Republicans, that they might get one anyway.
It would be instigated by fiscally conservative Republicans
who may not go along quietly in mid- to late-September with a
short-term spending extension necessary to keep the government
running when the fiscal year ends at the end of that month.
These House conservatives don't want to give up hard-fought
budget cuts already baked into House-passed spending bills - or
worse - punt spending decisions into a post-election lame-duck
The September vote on a spending extension, through a
continuing resolution, will be the last piece of must-pass
legislation before the Nov. 6 elections.
With the current round of partisan show-votes on extending
tax cuts expected to be blocked by the opposing party, some
lawmakers could see it as the final chance to make a point about
spending and taxes.
"Since it's obvious that Republican leadership will do
whatever it takes to pass a continuing resolution, conservatives
are going to do what we can to limit the damage," said an aide
to a conservative House Republican.
How far they will push things as the Sept. 30 fiscal
year-end approaches is yet to be seen.
"There will be definitely be some noise and probably a lot
of smoke over a continuing resolution, but it's unclear that
they'll want to light a fire right before the deadline," said
Chris Krueger, a political analyst with Guggenheim Partners in
Washington. "These guys will want to get home as soon as they
can to make sure that they win their races."
Republican concern about a shutdown fight was reflected in a
letter signed Wednesday by 20 House and Senate Republicans
urging House Speaker John Boehner and top Senate Republican
Mitch McConnell to seek immediate passage of a "fiscally
responsible continuing resolution to extend federal operations
well into next year".
"Taking the threat of a government shutdown off the table
will allow a serious debate about tax and spending policy before
the elections," the lawmakers wrote.
Fiscal 2013 levels for so-called discretionary spending,
programs such as defense and education where Congress has more
flexibility, were supposed to have been settled by the debt
limit deal last year and the cuts it specified - to a $1.047
trillion discretionary spending level.
But House bills have cut $19 billion from that level, and
fiscal conservatives are pressing for more. Campaign ads in
congressional races feature claims about the need to tame
runaway Washington spending.
SHUTDOWN BATTLE FATIGUE
Republican aides say House leaders have little stomach for
last year's bloody shutdown battles that devastated Congress'
approval ratings. Their plan is to pass a shorter-term measure
sooner rather than later, pushing funding decisions past the
"There is a consensus that we want to avoid any big battle
that could hurt (Republican candidate Mitt) Romney between now
and the election," said a Republican House leadership aide.
This stop-gap effort would likely continue current spending
levels or those agreed in last year's debt limit deal.
A fight over the length of the extension also is brewing.
Some Republicans in both the House and Senate are insisting on a
longer spending extension that goes into next year, when a newly
elected Congress will take office.
They fear that under a short extension into the lame-duck
session between the election and the start of a new Congress in
January 2013, defeated lawmakers will be able to spend with
But these lawmakers will clash with other Republicans, such
as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, who want
a short, three-month reprieve to finish spending bills - and
cuts - for which they have fought all year.
"CRs [continuing resolutions] are not supposed to replace
real funding bills. They're Band-Aids to give Congress extra
time to complete the work that it's supposed to do during the
regular fiscal year," said Jennifer Hing, a spokeswoman for
A short-term CR would more likely win passage in the
Democratic-controlled Senate, cutting chances of a messy
shutdown fight down to "slim to none," she added.
The Republican leadership aide said at this point, there
were no plans to go beyond the lame duck session.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has given up on the normal
appropriations process, saying last week that the Senate will
not pass any spending bills this year. He blamed the decision on
the House Republicans' insistence on undercutting the spending
level laid out in last year's debt limit deal.
House Speaker John Boehner has yet to publicly reveal his
preferred path for a government funding extension.
"Given Senate Democrats' inexcusable failure to pass a
budget or a single appropriations bill, at some point we'll have
to deal with the consequences of their inaction - but no
decisions have been made yet on how to do that," said Boehner
spokesman Michael Steel.
A short-term extension also would heap the funding of
government agencies and programs onto an already overcrowded
agenda for Congress' lame duck session that includes much more
pressing issues - year-end expiration of tax cuts, automatic
spending cuts due in January and a likely debt limit increase.
"It would be adding more fuel to the chaos," said Senator
Lindsey Graham, who signed the letter to Republican leaders.
"A vast majority of Republicans would prefer, on the Senate
side, that the CR go into the next Congress so that we don't
have all of this hitting right before Christmas."