House GOP leaders are still struggling to lead their caucus.
Congressional Democrats and Republicans have been expected to have plenty of arguments in 2012, but the budget process was expected to go relatively smoothly. So much for that idea.
Just seven months ago, the parties agreed to spending levels for the upcoming year, as part of the debt-ceiling negotiations. With those figures already locked in, the most contentious part of the budget was already addressed. After all, as far as everyone was concerned, a deal's a deal.
This week, however, we're finding that rank-and-file House Republicans no longer like that deal, and are pushing GOP leaders to renege on it.
Conservatives are pressing House Speaker John A. Boehner (Ohio) and other GOP leaders to slash 2013 agency budgets below levels set during last year's debt-limit showdown, arguing that the deal did too little to curb spending.
While that move might impress tea party voters, it would put them at odds with Democrats and even Republicans in the Senate, who are eager to get through the summer and fall without another nasty spending fight that could shut down the government five weeks before voters head to the polls.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) had a lengthy meeting behind closed doors yesterday with Republicans on the House Budget Committee, urging them to honor the agreement the parties reached in August. By all accounts, the Cantor-led meeting resolved nothing -- GOP members still intend to ignore the bipartisan agreement and submit a budget resolution with spending levels below the agreed-upon levels.
Sahil Kapur reported yesterday, "[E]ven though Senate Democrats are all but certain to reject those levels, one veteran House conservative indicated that the GOP is indeed prepared to pick the fight anyhow."
The result of this is -- you guessed it -- a possible government shutdown in an election year.
At this point, the story is arguably still in the "keep an eye on this" phase. Republicans on the Budget Committee are apparently waiting for some baseline estimates from the Congressional Budget Office before deciding how to proceed, and those numbers won't be available until next week.
Still, the fact that GOP lawmakers are even thinking about ignoring their party leadership (again) and rejecting the bipartisan budget deal is causing a fair amount of consternation on the Hill.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told the Washington Post, "If House Republicans walk away from the agreement their own Speaker made less than a year ago, then they will show that a deal with them isn't worth the paper it's printed on.... Republicans are playing with fire here, and I urge them to not cave to their most conservative members and to stick to the budget levels we already agreed to last year."