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Tea party undercuts GOP leadership

Tea party-movement Republicans in the House are pushing their leadership to renege on a budget deal reached last July, an agreement that averted a default by the U.S. government but did some minor damage to the nation’s credit rating.

The deal caps spending for fiscal year 2013, which begins Oct. 1, at $1.047 trillion, a number that Senate Democrats and the White House, with various degrees of unhappiness, finally agreed to.

But now the tea party-led newcomers are saying that’s too much spending and are urging their leaders to walk away from the agreement. This can’t be a happy moment for House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio and his top deputy, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, because congressional Democrats will openly question, and moderate Republicans privately so, that if the GOP leadership can’t make this deal stand up, what deal can they make stand up?

Senate Democrats quickly announced that a deal is a deal and they would hold up their end of the bargain.

This has the potential for a real budget train wreck.

If House Republicans renege – for example, by adopting a more stringent budget blueprint – their funding for government functions will be much less than the Senate’s, operating under the original $1.047 trillion cap.

If the two sides can’t agree, come Sept. 30 they will have to adopt a series of stopgap measures temporarily allowing the agencies to spend at current levels. Worse, GOP hard-liners could force a government shutdown on the eve of the November elections. This would be a debacle for the GOP leadership and possibly the party as a whole.

There is also another land mine waiting to go off.

Under last summer’s agreement, if a congressional supercommittee failed to reach agreement on a long-term deficit-reduction plan – and it did, in fact, fail, to no one’s surprise – then $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts would go into effect Jan. 1, 2013. About half of those cuts would fall on defense, effectively gutting the military, according to the Pentagon. The Republican chairmen of the House budget and armed services committees have been working desperately to get the Defense Department out from under those cuts.

This mess could be largely resolved if only House Republicans would do what they said they would last summer. That would leave Congress free to have another try at a long-term deficit-reduction plan, one that could be voted on in the comparative peace that will follow the November elections.