WASHINGTON -- With nine days remaining until government funding expires, House Republican freshmen announced today they plan to rally on the steps of the Senate until the chamber passes a bill to fund the government, arguing Senate Democrats are to blame for the threat of government shutdown.
In a letter addressed to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) and 30 other freshman Republicans called for the Senate to pass a budget bill. Despite ongoing negotiations between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate and White House over how to fund the government, the House GOP has repeatedly claimed it is being asked to negotiate with itself because the Senate has not passed a budget bill.
"You have failed to pass a budget, failed to restrain spending, and failed to put our country on sound fiscal footing," the letter reads. "We do not accept your failure as our own. ... Make no mistake: any government shutdown is the result of your lack of leadership."
The Senate voted down a House Republican bill--which cut $61 billion from current funding levels--that Senate Democrats deemed extreme because of broad cuts and ideologically-driven riders that would defund health care reform, Planned Parenthood and regulatory agencies.
In the weeks since, though, Democrats from the White House and Senate have been at work on funding compromises, most recently floating an offer to cut an addition $26 billion from the current budget. With the $10 billion already trimmed during stopgap funding bills, the final $36 billion in cuts are seemingly in line with earlier proposals by House Republicans. The House GOP initially proposed cuts of about $32 billion from current funding levels, but nearly doubled the figure after pressure from the more conservative faction of the conference, including freshmen.
But now that a compromise with the White House is seemingly in sight, the House leadership faces the threat of another revolt from within. Although the leadership may be willing to accept the White House's offer, many conservative GOP members are likely not, particularly if the final compromise strips the House's budget bill of its riders.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said on Tuesday the GOP planned to continue to push for $61 billion in cuts, denying he had any knowledge of discussions on a compromise that would only cut $26 billion from the budget. On Wednesday, he hardened his commitment to the $61 billion in budget cuts by announcing plans to introduce a bill that would put the House's budget into effect if the two chambers do not reach an agreement by April 6.
Freshman Republicans, too, have been largely reluctant to compromise with Senate Democrats. Along with conservative GOP members such as Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), many freshmen have said they will vote against a final compromise if it strays too far from the bill they passed.
If enough Republicans refuse to vote for a budget deal, House Speaker John Boehner would need Democrats to get a bill through the House. He relied on Democrats during the last short-term measure to fund the government, after a growing number of Republicans broke with leadership to vote against a compromise.
Crawford denied there is tension within the Republican conference over budget negotiations, despite reports that the GOP leadership is courting Blue Dog Democrats to help them pass a final deal if Republican members revolt.
"I think that's an attempt by Democrat leadership to attack our conference because our conference is in unison in our agreement that we need to, yes, fund the government, but do it responsibly," Crawford said.
He said that other groups from around the country would rally with freshmen Republicans on the Senate steps in the coming days or weeks, but said he was not sure whether a Tea Party rally planned for Thursday would join in.
A Reid spokesperson did not respond immediately to requests for comment on the letter. But Reid's former spokesman, Jim Manley, chimed in via Twitter, writing "House frosh letter to reid is cheap pr stunt. They couldn't legislate their way out of a paper bag, another problem for boehner. [sic]"
Even though both sides have said they hope to avoid government shutdown, leadership and members have begun messaging efforts to avoid blame if compromise negotiations fall apart. Democrats say a government shutdown would be the fault of House Republicans, specifically the uncompromising freshman class and GOP leadership that is unable to control its members.
House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) referred to the House Republicans' Tea Party contingent as the "perfectionist caucus" on Tuesday, borrowing a phrase from former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
"The perfectionist caucus tail is wagging the Republican dog, and if the perfectionist caucus prevails, Mr. Gingrich will be proven right that you cannot get a compromise," Hoyer said in a weekly briefing with reporters. "The result will be that the government will be put to the brink of being shut down and may be shut down."
If the government is shut down, freshmen Republicans have said it would be Democrats fault because they failed to pass a budget last year when they controlled the House and Senate. Their plan to rally on the Senate steps is seemingly an effort to push that narrative forward.
Democrats are "dead set on shutting down the government," Rep. Tim Griffin (R-Ark.) said at a press conference on Wednesday. "They want to shut the government down for political reasons."
UPDATE, 3:10 p.m.: Brian Fallon, a spokesman for the Senate Democratic leadership, said on Wednesday that Democrats are working with Boehner to make a budget deal, despite protest from House Republicans. "The bipartisan talks have resumed, and all this noise from the far right fringe that refuses to compromise just shows why Speaker Boehner will need to abandon the Tea Party to get a deal passed," he said.