Mick Mulvaney (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
By RAJU CHEBIUM
Gannett Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON - South Carolina's four House freshmen plan to vote reluctantly for a stopgap spending bill that will keep the government operating through March and avoid a potential federal shutdown soon after the elections.
Contentious debates about extending the Bush-era tax cuts and shielding the Pentagon from spending cuts are likely to consume lawmakers during a post-election lame-duck session.
Republican Rep. Mick Mulvaney of Lancaster County, said he and other congressional conservatives - including Republican Reps. Trey Gowdy of Spartanburg, Jeff Duncan of Laurens County and Tim Scott of North Charleston - don't want to add another volatile issue to the mix.
They consider the $1.047-trillion stopgap spending bill too expensive but are are prepared to vote for it and push the spending debate into 2013, he said.
"The number is much higher than I'd like it to be but I have to weigh that against the damage that can be done," Mulvaney, a member of the House Budget Committee, said in a phone interview.
Gowdy said a six-month bill guarantees that lawmakers can't increase spending during the lame-duck session by using the threat of a government shutdown as leverage.
"A six-month (bill), even at levels that were not supported by many members of Congress, is arguably preferable to a lame-duck session of Congress where traditionally a Pandora's Box is opened and money flies out," he said in a statement.
Congress will have to pass a stopgap bill because it hasn't passed a budget for fiscal 2013, which begins Oct. 1. An agreement on the bill, announced July 31, was negotiated by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. They plan to hold votes on it in September.
A government shutdown precipitated by Republican insistence on deeper spending cuts - which almost happened twice last year - would be a political embarrassment for GOP challenger Mitt Romney if he beats President Barack Obama in November.
Conservatives were unsuccessful last year because House Republican leaders found enough votes to bypass them, Mulvaney acknowledged. Conservatives ought to support the stopgap spending deal because they will have less leverage in a lame-duck session, he said.
Duncan said he's so confident Romney will beat Obama he'll vote for the deal, anticipating Congress will enact deeper spending cuts next year with the support of a Republican president.
"If we can pass something for at least six months, we'll have the chance to make some serious spending cuts under a Romney administration," Duncan said in a statement.
Scott, one of the leaders in the GOP-controlled House, said running a government on short-term funding measures wastes taxpayer dollars, but he added, "it is clear we must move forward."
The only other South Carolina Republican serving in the House, six-term Rep. Joe Wilson of West Montgomery, is leaning toward supporting the temporary spending measure but won't decide until he reads the bill, according to his office.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, a tea-party favorite, has called on Congress to adopt a stopgap spending measure,which gives the state's House freshmen added cover to vote for it.
DeMint and South Carolina's senior senator, Republican Lindsey Graham, favor avoiding a heated spending debate and potential government shutdown in the lame-duck session.
They wrote to Boehner last month urging him to support a longer, one-year deal before the August recess. Putting off a budget vote until after the November elections will "not serve the interests of the American people, but of the politicians the people just replaced," they wrote.