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GOP lawmakers grapple with budget vote

April 13, 2011|By Kathleen Hennessey

The class of Republicans who ran on a never-say-compromise platform were on the eve Wednesday being asked to do just that. And the pressure was showing.

Republican freshmen in the House used words like “heartburn,” “frustration,” and “undecided” on Wednesday as they wrestled with how to vote on a bipartisan spending plan -- arguably the most consequential of their short careers in Washington.

“I am as undecided as a human being can get,” said Rep. Joe Walsh, one of the dozens of Republicans who rode into office on a wave of small government fervor in November. “As a negotiation and a first step, (House Speaker John) Boehner and Republicans won.”

On the other hand: “But, there’s such a part of me that wants to do more,” he said.

The spending plan was negotiated last week under threat of a government shutdown and a vote in favor will be many Republican lawmakers’ first major encounter with the uncomfortable business of governing. With the conservative activists looking on, Republican lawmakers will have to endorse a plan that’s roughly $20 billion short of the spending cuts they sought and leaves out many of the policy provisions they deemed critical.

But it also walks the party off the brink of the government shutdown – something some hard-line conservatives of the tea party movement had urged but most voters would have opposed.

While Republican leaders in the House and Senate Democrats shook hands on the deal, they’ve had to spend the last five day making the case to their rank-and-file to ensure its passage.

For Republicans leaders in the House, that means winning a significant portion of the 87 new lawmakers – or relying heavily on Democrats to pass the bill. House leaders were still counting heads late in the day on Wednesday.

Rep. Dan Benishek, a Republican freshman from northern Michigan, said he could only offer leaders a “probably yes.”

“We’re going shut it down over just $20 billion? I don’t see the sense in that. I don’t see the sense in trying to get more at this point,” he said. “But I got a lot of tea party support. I’ve got to defend myself to them. It’s not easy. It’s not easy.”

Many members have been reaching out to take the temperature of the activists back home – in teleconferences, private phone calls and message on Facebook pages.

Watching from outside the Beltway, Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor and likely presidential aspirant, called on the House to reject the budget deal.

"The more we learn about the budget deal the worse it looks," When you consider that the federal deficit in February alone was over $222 billion, to have actual cuts less than the $38 billion originally advertised is just not serious," Pawlenty said in a statement. "It's no surprise that President Obama and Senator Reid forced this budget, but it should be rejected. America deserves better."

In preparing for a White House run, Pawlenty has been aggressively courting tea-party support.

kathleen.hennessey@latimes.com

twitter: @kathleenhennessey

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