WASHINGTON — Many Republican conservatives — notably some elected for the first time last year — have grown increasingly frustrated over plans to keep the government running for another three weeks, saying they want longer-term, more serious spending cuts.
The House of Representatives, where Republicans have a 241 to 192 majority, plans to vote Tuesday on keeping the government funded through April 8. The package cuts spending by $6 billion.
And while Republican leaders Monday were guardedly confident the bill will pass, they expect lots of grumbling, an unpredictable number of Republican no votes and lots of warnings that this is the last short-term extension most GOP lawmakers will accept.
"When I was elected last year, it was to change the culture in Washington. The status quo here is, 'Take your time. We'll get to it.' We don't have the time to wait around," said freshman Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, who plans to vote no.
"Cutting the size and scope of government won't be possible as long as Congress squabbles over cutting millions of dollars when our nation is $14 trillion in debt," added freshman Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., another anticipated no vote
If the House approves the extension, the measure would then go to the Democratic-dominated Senate, which would be expected to concur, and then to President Barack Obama. Vice President Joe Biden and congressional leaders are trying to negotiate a deal to keep the government running through Sept. 30, the end of fiscal 2011.
Current spending authority expires Friday; if no further funds were provided, much of the government would shut down.
Republicans want to implement a budget-cutting plan that slices $61 billion from current year spending, but Democrats have blocked it. Congress approved a two-week stopgap earlier this month that cut $4 billion.
Six Republicans voted against that measure. But this time, said many conservatives, they've had enough of the piecemeal solutions, and could vote no.
"With the federal government facing record deficits and a mammoth debt hanging over our economy and our future, we must do more than cut spending in bite-sized pieces," said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the leading House Republican conservative group, who opposes the latest proposal.
The key to the bill's fate Tuesday appears to lie with the House's 87 Republican freshmen, many of whom were elected last year with the backing of the grassroots conservative tea party movement.
Some tea party leaders have made it clear they're getting impatient with Congress' slow progress on spending.
"Where are the calls for the cutting of hundreds of billions?" asked Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips recently. "They certainly are not coming from (House Speaker John) Boehner." As a result, Phillips said, "The tea party movement should find a candidate to run against John Boehner in 2012..."
House Republican leaders insist they're as frustrated as the tea party folks, and there's been no hint of rebellion against Boehner. But asked whether the GOP has the votes to pass a three-week extension, House leaders could not say for sure.
That's why they're watching the freshmen particularly closely.
Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. plans to oppose the measure; he tweeted Monday that it will "only continue to predict uncertainty and confusion among Americans."
South Carolina's Duncan said he'd rather shut down the government for a few days than not deal more seriously with spending. Kansas' Huelskamp wants more White House involvement.
"I think its time to require the Senate and the president to step up to the plate,' he said. "To go six months into the budget year without a budget is irresponsible."
Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., said he'll vote no on the budget.
Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, said he'd consider a no vote, and that voting against a three-week extension "would be one way to send a message."
He said "The American people are tired of the games that are played here in Washington D.C. This is why they distrust all of us in Congress because they think all we do is we go, we play these games where we extend things, and we don't make the tough decisions."
Or as Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Ohio, put it in a tweet Monday, "The bill will stall for time as we wait for Democrats to work with us to agree on long-term spending cuts."
(Lesley Clark of the Miami Herald, David Goldstein of the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, James Rosen of The State, Erika Bolstad of the Idaho Statesman and William Douglas of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed)
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