September 23, 2011
Washington lurched toward another potential government shutdown crisis Friday, as the House approved a Republican-authored short-term funding measure designed to keep government running through Nov. 18 that Democrats in the Senate immediately vowed to reject.
In an after-midnight roll call, House Republican leaders persuaded conservatives early Friday morning to support a stop-gap bill nearly identical to one they had rejected just 30 hours earlier.
The bill, which will keep federal agencies funded through Nov, 18, passed over staunch objections from Democrats, who opposed a provision that would pair increased funding for disaster relief with a spending cut to a program that makes loans to car companies to encourage the production of energy-efficient cars.
Without a resolution, the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund will run out of money early next week and the rest of the government would be forced to shut down Oct. 1.
Friday's vote marked a reversal of fortunes for House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), who after losing Wednesday's vote found himself roaming the contours of a familiar dilemma - capitulate to fiscal hawks in his own party who want to spend less, or compromise with Democrats who want to spend more.
Instead, Boehner found another route: He huddled all day and night Thursday with his rank-and-file, warning them he would give them one more chance to approve the bill or he would be forced to agree to drop the offsetting cut, as Democrats had demanded.
In addition, after a 90-minute meeting with the Republican Conference Thursday afternoon, the leadership agreed to an additional, largely symbolic cut by striking $100 million for a loan program that funded the bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra. That company, which received the loan guarantees through the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus legislation, has become a favorite target for Republicans in their critique of the White House’s handling of the economy.
As heated debate over the measure continued late Thursday night, Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) told colleagues that the goal of the change was to “ensure that hard-earned dollars of the American people are not wasted in the way that we have seen” with Solyndra.
Rep. Louise M. Slaughter (D-N.Y.) countered that the measure had been hardly changed after a day of wrangling and still contained “unacceptable cuts . . . to pay for equally essential disaster funding.”
Boehner's victory could be short-lived. Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) said late Thursday that the measure could not pass his chamber, with a vote expected sometime Friday. A Senate defeat would leave Congress at a new stand-off.
"It fails to provide the relief that our fellow Americans need as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of floods, wildfires and hurricanes, and it will be rejected by the Senate," Reid said of the bill.
Republicans defended the decision to hold the vote Wednesday, even though they realized it was likely to fail. The GOP leadership wanted to demonstrate to the recalcitrant conservatives that their actions had real consequences. One senior Republican adviser called the process “an educational experience.”
“I’ve always believed in allowing the House to work its will. I understood what the risk was yesterday. But why not put the bill on the floor and let the members speak? And they did,” Boehner said Thursday morning at his weekly press briefing.
According to GOP lawmakers and aides, House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had reported to Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) that a few dozen Republicans would oppose the legislation, mostly because they thought its spending levels were too far above those they voted for in the spring when they approved the 2012 budget originally proposed by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.).
Boehner’s leadership team knew that it would need Democratic votes to approve the plan, but only by Wednesday afternoon did they fully understand that House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) were whipping their caucus to oppose the measure and make Boehner deliver nearly all Republican votes for passage. Rather than pulling the bill from the floor, Boehner told his deputies to hold the vote.
The extraordinary effort required to pass such a basic bill suggests even bigger battles later in the fall on potential blockbuster deficit-reduction plans.
The stopgap spending bill is necessary because the House and Senate have stalemated over how to fund government through the whole year. Without a stopgap in place to buy time for further negotiations, the government will shut down at month’s end.
House leaders had hoped to pass the short-term funding bill without the strife that had characterized recent debates in a divided Congress, which they knew would erode financial markets’ confidence and spark further disgust among voters.
They would do it by agreeing to set spending in the bill at a rate of $1.043 trillion for the year, the amount set in the rancorous August deal to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
But that plan ran headlong into the political realities of their divided chamber — as well as a congressional calendar that provides for a week-long recess beginning Friday so that dozens of Jewish lawmakers can observe their holidays next week.
Democrats, stung by accusations that they had made too many concessions in the debt fight during the summer, stood unified against the measure over a Republican decision to pair $3.65 billion in funding for disaster relief with a $1.5 billion spending cut to the the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program, which offers loans to car companies to encourage the production of energy-efficient cars.
That particular cut was anathema to many Democrats, who argued that the loan program has generated tens of thousands of jobs.
“We shouldn’t even be having this conversation,” said Pelosi. “The fact is when natural disaster strikes, the American people are in need. . . . They don’t need to have the fear that there’s going to be a debate over how this is going to be paid for.”
Still, many Republicans said they could not support a bill that did not cut spending more deeply — even if it meant forcing their leaders to make concessions to Democrats to get the bill passed.
“It’s painful to say that my vote helped my party lose this issue. I do not like that. I find no joy in that. I find no pride in that,” said Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), who had opposed the bill Thursday.
But, he said, “those of us who were elected, especially just recently, have to justify why we were elected” — to cut spending.
Democrats, meanwhile, relished the prospect that their unified opposition might finally force Boehner to abandon his conservative colleagues.
“In the House, the majority controls all the mechanisms,” said Rep. Anna G. Eshoo (D-Calif.). “You’d better be able to produce the votes. You just cant go willy-nilly to the floor and then say, ‘Well, oopsie.’ ”
Staff writers David A. Fahrenthold and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.