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Bravely Bold Conservatives Running Away on Budget Stopgap

House conservatives are running away from one spending fight, asking Eric Cantor to schedule a vote on a stopgap spending bill that would push any budget fight well into 2013.

The request would not change the host of fiscal battles expected in the lame duck session; the trigger cuts and the Bush tax cuts would still have to be reckoned with. But the Fiscal Year 2013 budget would not get layered on top of that.

Cantor attended a meeting Wednesday of the conservative Republican Study Committee, where lawmakers voiced support for passing a long-term continuing resolution when federal funding runs out at the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30.

While conservatives led a fight for deep spending cuts in a continuing resolution in 2011, they are worried that Democrats will draw them into a battle that could lead to a government shutdown in October, right before the November elections. They also want a stopgap measure to extend beyond the end of the year so that Democrats cannot use it as leverage in a broader fight over expiring tax rates and automatic spending cuts.

The goal of a continuing resolution that would last up to six months is to “take the issue out of Harry Reid’s hands,” one GOP aide said, referring to the Democratic Senate majority leader.

Now there’s something you don’t see every day, Republican fear of Harry Reid! I guess he has momentum after engineering that successful vote on the Bush tax cuts.

Really, this makes a bet on the elections. If Mitt Romney wins and gets a Republican House and Senate, conservatives will be in a much better position to get what they want out of a budget fight. As it stands now, they have to bargain with a Democratic President and a Democratic Senate, which means longer odds. The tax fight is pretty similar. Mitch McConnell allowed the vote to go through, but the House will pass their one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts next week, and the elections will largely decide what plan will become law.

This is good news for the country, however. It means that Republicans will not commit to a hostage crisis over the budget before the elections, mindful of their own self-preservation. The Republican Study Committee agreed to support a higher spending target in order to get the continuing resolution passed, breaking an impasse that could have damaged the potential for a successful conclusion. So we’ll probably see a stopgap at the level mandated by the Budget Control Act’s spending cap. That includes funding for the health care law and in all likelihood no riders on things like environmental regulations.

So in general, this means that at least one set of fiscal policy fights gets frozen in amber until next year. And given the government-by-hostage-crisis to which we’ve been accustomed, that’s a welcome relief.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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