In April, the White House and House Republicans agreed to continuing resolution (CR) to fund the government through September 30. That is about to expire, so Congress must pass another funding measure before then to avoid a government shutdown. Last night, the House tried to do just that and failed:
The House stunned Republican leaders Wednesday by rejecting a temporary spending bill that would have funded the government through Nov. 18.
The vote failed, 195-230, after Democrats pulled their support for the bill and Republican leaders were forced to scramble for enough votes entirely within their own ranks. Four dozen conservatives voted against the bill because it left spending levels for 2012 higher than the cap set in the House GOP budget.
The defeat hands leverage to congressional Democrats in a dispute over federal disaster funding. Democratic leaders objected to a GOP provision cutting funding from a Department of Energy manufacturing loan program to offset additional money for disaster relief.
Forty-eight Republicans voted against the measure, and in a surprising show of unity, only six Democrats, all Blue Dogs, voted for it. A GOP aide told National Review Online that leadership went to the floor last night without the votes to pass the bill, and was content to let the bill fail to send a message to “stubborn” conservative opponents. GOP leaders argued that a vote against the CR gave more leverage to House Democrats, who would inevitably push for more spending in the bill. In effect, by voting down the bill, Republicans were “shooting themselves in the foot,” the aide said. As freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling (R., Ill.) explained, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) “broke it down pretty simple. He goes, ‘I know there are some of you out here who don’t want to vote for this thing, but if you don’t, you think this is a big number? Wait until you see what we get back, and we’re not in the driver’s seat then.’”
Boehner echoed this tone at a press conference earlier today. “Well, you know they could vote no, but what they’re in essence doing is they’re voting to spend more money, because that’s exactly what will happen,” Boehner said of his colleagues who opposed the bill. A number of reports indicate that Boehner appears to be fed up with the hard-line conservative bloc within the caucus (about 40–50 members strong) that has frequently voted against him:
Boehner was described as “spitting nails” during a closed-door member meeting on Wednesday, and his harsh talk demonstrated that the usually unflappable speaker is reaching something close to a breaking point with his internally divided conference.
Those close to Boehner said there is a growing anger in the leadership that some in the freshman class and other intractable conservatives pay no mind to the legislative dangers of abandoning leadership—especially at a time when Democrats feel as if they and President Obama are fighting for their political lives.
And it’s not as though leadership didn’t see this coming. The debt-ceiling deal passed in August set spending levels for the upcoming fiscal year. Those levels, however, are not as low as those set by the House-passed Paul Ryan budget, and some Republicans won’t accept anything less than that. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) circulated a memo back in August urging House Republicans to avoid “unnecessary uncertainty” with respect to the CR. “While all of us would like to have seen a lower discretionary appropriations ceiling for the upcoming fiscal year, the debt limit agreement did set a level of spending that is a real cut from the current year level,” Cantor wrote. “I believe it is in our interest to enact into law full-year appropriations bills at this new lower level.”
Still, they could not persuade at least 218 of their members to go along.
That said, another GOP aide suggested that perhaps the most significant aspect of the failed vote is not the GOP opposition but the Democratic opposition. Even though Boehner lost 48 Republicans this time around, that is still less than the 66 who voted against the debt-ceiling deal back in August. In contrast, while 95 Democrats backed the debt-ceiling bill, 89 of them flipped to oppose the CR. “Republicans don’t want to be portrayed as the obstructionists in Congress, but Democrats are determined to do just that,” the aide said.
“This continuing resolution was designed to be a bipartisan bill, and we had every reason to believe that our counterparts across the aisle were supportive,” Boehner said today. “And once they began to see where some of our votes were, they decided to play politics and vote against disaster relief for millions of Americans who have been affected by this.”
Indeed, the allotment for disaster-relief funding was a primary driver of Democratic opposition to the bill. The CR included $3.6 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), about $1 billion of which was offset by cutting a federal loan program that supports the production of fuel-efficient cars. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, have already approved a disaster relief bill allocating $6.9 billion in funding for FEMA, none of which is offset. House Republicans must now decide how to proceed on a new bill, either by increasing the amount of disaster relief funding to win Democratic votes (or remove that part of the bill altogether and simply take up the Senate bill), or they could tack right and push for lower spending levels in an effort to win over members of their own party.
A GOP aide insists there is “zero chance” of a government shutdown at this point, but members have been told not to make any weekend plans just yet.
UPDATE: I’m hearing from aides that House Republicans will bring essentially the same CR to the floor for a vote tonight, the only major difference being an additional spending offset that cuts the Department of Energy loan program that funded Solyndra.