House conservatives unexpectedly bolted from the Republican leadership on Wednesday and helped Democrats vote down a $1.43 trillion stopgap spending measure to keep the federal government operating when the 2011 fiscal year ends next week. The measure was defeated 195 yeas to 230 nays, and as the fifteen-minute vote stretched to a half hour, 48 Republicans ultimately voted no.
Although no one in the Republican Party spoke out against the bill during the two hours of debate on the House floor, some said afterward it allowed the temporary spending through Nov. 18 at too high a rate.
Conservatives are still smarting from the debt-ceiling deal and insist that the lower spending levels they approved in Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R.-Wis.) budget be adhered to.
“It’s business as usual, with another missed deadline and another missed opportunity to finally put an end to the out-of-control spending that has put our nation’s economic health in crisis,” said Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R.-Kan.). “This level of spending is far from meeting the goal we set for ourselves before coming to Washington last November.”
The defeat will have House Republican leaders scrambling to find a compromise within their own party before recess begins next week to observe Rosh Hashanah, though some conceded privately they knew they didn’t have enough votes to pass the measure.
At least three conservative Republicans, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming and Tom Graves of Georgia, sent a letter to House leaders telling them beforehand to stick to the Ryan numbers.
“The House simply cannot push the level of discretionary spending for the coming year upwards as its first action after the extended debt ceiling debate,” the letter said.
“Given the current state of the U.S. economy, taxpayers’ continued focus on cutting deficits and reducing the national debt, and the global attention to spending issues, it would be difficult to conceive of a less opportune time to send such a clear message that Washington continues to be tone deaf when it comes to federal spending,” the letter said.
While Republicans said the measure allowed too much spending, Democrats opposed the bill because they wanted billions more in spending for disaster relief.
The so-called Continuing resolution (CR) was necessary because none of the 12 appropriation measures have passed Congress or been signed into law by President Obama.
“This is not a departure from our path of restoring fiscal sanity,” said Rep. Rob Woodall (R.-Ga.). “We’re committed to continuing on that path, but unfortunately, the actions of the other body leave us no choice but to consider this Continuing Resolution today.”
Rep. Louise Slaughter, (D.-N.Y.) said, “Not a single appropriation bill has been enacted … despite the Republicans’ pledge to America.”
“Throughout this failed process, they have blamed everyone but themselves,” Slaughter said. “They’ve worked to fulfill their campaign pledges to Grover Norquist and the far Right.”
The Republican-controlled House has passed all 12 spending bills out of committee, and half of those have passed the House and been sent to the Senate. However, only one bill has passed the Democrat-controlled Senate.
“I’m not going to point the finger of blame at anyone, I’m keeping my hands at my side,” said Rep. David Drier (R.-Calif.) chairman of the House Rules Committee.
“But we inherited a hell of a mess,” Drier said.
“With all due respect, our friends on the other side of the aisle didn’t write a budget this year, and that took up a lot of time,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R.-Okla.).
The CR would keep government operating at its current level until Nov. 18, to give Congress more time to pass all of the appropriation measures. The CR includes an additional $3.6 billion for the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA) and other emergency spending that Republicans have offset by more than $1 billion by cutting guaranteed loans to build new green automobiles.
Democrats objected because they want $6.9 billion in emergency spending without any offsets, and without their support in the Senate to pass the measure before Congress adjourns this week to observe Rosh Hashanah, the government faces a shutdown.
“We’re having 100-year floods, every year,” said Rep. Edward Markey (D.-Mass). “The planet is warming, the weather is worsening. What is the response of Republicans? They have to find the money, they say, for disaster relief. What does the Tea Party want? They want to cut the clean-car factory fund.”
The emergency funding is intended to pay for disaster relief from recent hurricanes and the East Coast earthquake, as well as flood control projects for the Army Corps of Engineers.
“Using offsets to pay for disaster relief is the rule here, it is not the exception,” said Rep. Hal Rogers (R.-Ky.) chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Even in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Rogers said, Congress offset that emergency spending.
If the $3 billion is not enough to fund disaster spending until mid November, Rogers said, the Obama administration can come back to Congress then with documentation to show more is needed.
“It’s simply a ruse to spend more money in other areas without being responsible,” Cole said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.) said that when the measure comes to the Senate for a vote this week, he would insert the additional spending. By changing the legislation, Reid would trigger additional congressional procedures, which puts the entire legislation on a precarious time line of passing before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
“We’re not going to cave on this,” Reid said.
Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat whose district includes the Bronx and Rockland and Westchester Counties, said his area was “devastated by Irene,” and that demanding spending cuts “in times of disaster” is “ridiculous logic.”
“Try telling my constituents who are struggling in the aftermath of the hurricane, ‘Sorry, we have to find offsets,’ ” Engel said. Rep. Steve Womack (R.-Ark.) said Democrats are using Republicans as a “political prop designed to make us look hard-hearted.”
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Womack said.