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 House and Senate must pass a spending bill by Sept. 30 to keep the government running into the next fiscal year. Both chambers are scheduled to be out on recess next week.
The defeat was a stinging loss for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who pitched the measure to his conference as the lowest spending number they could get.
House GOP leaders retreated to the Speaker’s office after the vote to plot their next move.
“We are focused on trying to change the way business is done in Washington. Change like this is hard,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters after the vote. “We’ll find a way forward so that we can reflect the expectations that taxpayers have that we are going to begin to start spending their money more prudently.”
Asked if the bill’s defeat increased the possibility of a government shutdown, Cantor replied: “I don’t think so.”
“In the end,” he said, “we’ll do what’s right by the people who put us here. It’s just part of the process unfortunately.”
Boehner had tried, unsuccessfully, to rally Republicans behind the bill earlier in the day, warning them in a closed-door conference meeting that the level of spending was likely only to increase if their legislation failed.
“Boehner just broke it down pretty simple,” said freshman Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-Ill.). “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.’ ”
The House was already on a collision course with the Senate over the level of funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The House bill included $3.65 billion for FEMA, with about $1 billion of that money offset by a cut to an energy program supporting loans for the production of fuel-efficient cars. The Senate had already approved $6.9 billion in disaster relief, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had vowed to try to amend the House bill to match that level.
After the House vote on Wednesday, Democrats immediately called on Republicans to scrap the cut to the energy program, which they said would cost thousands of jobs.
“This vote sent a clear message to Republicans: the American people want a bipartisan approach to running our government,” said the No. 2 House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “We should immediately pass disaster relief that meets the needs of our people and protect — not cut — programs proven to create jobs while we reduce the deficit. If Republican leaders bring a bill to the floor that honors the bipartisan agreement from August, they will find it has bipartisan support for passage.”
Hoyer had whipped Democrats in opposition to the GOP bill only in the last day, flummoxing Republicans who were counting on his help to pass the measure. The chief Democratic appropriator, Rep. Norm Dicks (Wash.), had initially voiced support for the bill but flipped his position after the party leadership decided to oppose it en masse.
Ultimately, all but six House Democrats opposed the bill, including Reps. Jason Altmire (Pa.), Carolyn McCarthy (N.Y.) and Larry Kissell (N.C.). Forty-eight Republicans defected, including many who had broken with party leaders on spending bills in the past. GOP aides said after the vote that the bill had been designed to attract Democratic support, making the opposition from Hoyer and Dicks crucial.
Republican leaders expected an easier time after they stuck to a fiscal 2012 spending cap of $1.043 trillion that congressional leaders had agreed to in the debt-limit deal approved in August. Conservatives wanted party leaders to abide by the $1.019 trillion cap that the House GOP had included in its budget.
Republicans must now decided whether to find an offsetting spending cut that Democrats will sign off on or whether to scrap the offset altogether, which would threaten more defections from conservatives.
“I have serious objections to the pay-for in this legislation,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “I have a bigger objection that we would have to pay for disasters. We never paid for the tax cuts for the rich, they never were paid for. We never paid for the wars in Afghanistan in Iraq, they were never paid for.”
Democrats have argued since last week that the energy program helps create auto-industry jobs and gives U.S. auto companies the funding to develop advanced technology in areas such as improved fuel efficiency.
“To date, this program has awarded $3.5 billion of credit subsidy to promote energy-efficient advanced vehicles and their component parts,” Dicks said. “The Department of Energy estimates the loan guarantees have created or maintained in total 39,000 jobs in California, Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri and Tennessee.”
During the debate, several Republicans rebutted the claim by saying the energy program has $4 billion in unused funds, and that $2.5 billion would remain if the offset were approved.
Republicans also disputed the Democratic opposition to offsetting disaster aid, saying it had been done several times previously, including when Pelosi was Speaker of the House.
This story was posted at 5:43 p.m. and was last updated at 8:53 p.m.