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NJ Daily / BUDGET

As Funding Bill Falters, Members Scramble

Stressed: Majority Leader Eric Cantor.(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

September 21, 2011

We know House Republicans failed to pass a continuing resolution funding the government. So what happens next and why?

Congress retains the option of working through next week’s recess if the extra days are needed to reach a deal on the bill. Following the defeat, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., promised to move forward in a “concerted fashion” and he acknowledged the Democratic gripe with the offsets that were used to compensate for additional funds for FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency. That raised the hope that some compromise might be reached. So did House Rules Committee Chairman David Drier’s assertion that leaders were meeting just hours after the defeat to craft new legislation that could keep the government running.

Neither chamber appears to have a serious appetite for another shutdown risk after a year in which the government came to the brink of a shutdown and a debt-ceiling crisis.

 

The defeat marked an embarrassing loss for House GOP leaders who somehow managed to blow a whipped vote. They were left scrambling to clarify how they will proceed. They can cut funding to try to pick up votes from 48 Republicans who opposed the bill and wanted overall funding reduced below a level set in last month’s Budget Control Act. But that course would risk defeat in the Democratic-led Senate, where leaders said they would reject a reduction in the $1.04 trillion overall FY12 funding level reached in last month’s debt ceiling deal.

A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said that Republicans “continue to work on a responsible plan that can pass the House.”

A spokeswoman for House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., Erica Elliott, was blaming Democratic duplicity—not bad vote counting by her boss: “This bill was designed to pass with Democrat votes, in part based on assurances from Reps. Dicks and Hoyer that they would vote for it.”

Still GOP leaders may have to insert all or part of $7 billion Democrats want to replenish a FEMA fund depleted by recent disasters. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., withheld Democratic votes for the CR over the disaster-aid shortfall. Hoyer indicated he would deliver enough for passage if the GOP yielded on the disaster-aid issue.

Cantor’s comments suggested Republicans would consider changing the $1.5 billion cut to funding for the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program that the GOP used to offset the disaster aid, but left plans unclear. Democrats have lauded the green energy program and were particularly indignant that it was targeted.

Not surprisingly, Democrats urged the GOP to fold. “They should take our bipartisan bill,” said Adam Jentleson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Jentleson said it would be possible procedurally for the Senate to act first on their preferred version of the bill, “but the easiest thing to do would be for the House to amend their bill with our FEMA amendment and ship it on over.” Reid himself had championed the FEMA amendment that is at the center of the standoff.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the GOP should pass a clean CR with the FEMA language removed, and then take up the Senate-passed disaster-aid bill separately. That bill also has $7 billion in disaster-aid funding that is not offset.
Democrats said they are open to a compromise disaster-aid funding level if the bill moves separately.

House Republicans were clearly dejected after the vote. Top leadership aides admitted they had anticipated more Democratic votes.

The GOP seemed oblivious to the fact that earlier in the day Hoyer circulated a memo to Democratic members urging a “no” vote.  The nearly unanimous Democratic opposition—all but six opposed the bill—combined with significant GOP opposition, doomed it to failure.

The vote is particularly stinging for Cantor, who has become closely identified with the push to offset the disaster funding.

Katy O’Donnell and Chris Strohm contributed contributed to this article.

This article appears in the September 22, 2011 edition of NJ Daily.

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