Looming Budget Fights Offer GOP Opportunities

The struggle to fund the government through September is just one of several fiscal battlefields in Washington this year. There are also fights brewing over raising the limit on the national debt and budgeting for 2012 and beyond. That means more opportunities for fiscal conservatives elected in 2010 to make their presence felt. Host Liane Hansen talks with NPR's Andrea Seabrook about some of the power dynamics in the current Congress.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

In the week ahead, we'll find out whether the budget deal, struck Friday night to keep the federal government operating will be strong enough to hold through another round of votes in the House and Senate. The question marks are on the House side where the new Republican majority threw up roadblocks to the deal until the final hours.

Joining us to talk about how the deal went down and what comes next is NPR congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Good morning, Liane.

HANSEN: So what are you hearing from members of Congress about the deal that was struck in their name? Are they as happy as their leaders are?

SEABROOK: Well, you will see a street lead broad view, yes. They're all happy. I mean the Republicans got big, big cuts from almost exclusively social programs, like education, health services; things they don't think should be funded at the levels that they are. Democrats managed to kill a bunch of policies that almost made it into the compromise bill; policies that would have blocked federal funding for women's health clinics, for basic health exams for poorer women - you know, breast exams, pap smears, and so on.

Now, get it closer though, Liane, to the bill and you'll start to see groups within the Republican Party who aren't as happy. I mean a lot of the Tea Party freshman Republicans - that huge group that gave the GOP its majority - they are not so happy about what they got out of the deal. They wanted far deeper cuts, like $61 billion we're talking here. And then the social conservatives who didn't get to block what they see as money to abortion providers. So, not everyone is completely happy with this deal.

HANSEN: But explain how it went from the Tea Party objecting because the cuts weren't deep enough, and then the focus shifting away from budget cuts to social issues. What happened?

SEABROOK: Well, that was a fascinating move. What happened is you have to look within the Republican Party and you see a couple of different groups that have almost equal strength, within the Republican Party right now. You've got this huge class of, you know, upstart freshman. A lot of them were backed by Tea Party groups in their elections, there are 83 - I think there are 87 of them -and they have a lot of power in the party right now. And what they really care about is money, money, money, cut the budget, cut the budget.

Then you've got the social's conservatives, the people who have been in the Republican Party for a long time and haven't gotten a lot out of it. I mean the Republicans were in charge for years and you didn't see much in terms of stopping abortion in America. Now, these people are getting tired of being in the Republican coalition and not getting a lot. I mean, and they wanted to turn the debate at the last minute to abortion funding; to funding specifically to clinics they think to use federal money to fund abortions. Now, that's not exactly true but that's the way they put it.

And they also, you know, gay marriage - they would like to focus on those things. And they turned the debate to that in the last minute to almost disastrous results. If this debate in the end had turned into one about abortion, Republicans would have lost the whole thing. You know, Americans are tired of that debate. And so they ended up getting - those social conservatives ended up getting cut out of the deal once again.

HANSEN: NPR's congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook.

Andrea, thank you very, very much.

SEABROOK: My pleasure. Thanks.

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