Senate rejects House spending bill, raising fears of shutdown

The Senate on Friday rejected a House spending bill to keep the government funded and made plans to return to Washington next week. 

In a 59-36 vote, the Senate tabled the House legislation approved early Friday morning. The continuing resolution would keep the government funded through Nov. 18; without a new funding measure, the government would shut down after next Thursday.

Democrats in the Senate object to the bill's funding level for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and were upset over deep cuts to an energy program the GOP reduced as an offset to the increased funds to FEMA. 

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) accused Republicans of moving toward the Tea Party by approving legislation similar to a bill defeated by the House on Wednesday. 

“I was optimistic that my House Republican colleagues would learn from their failure yesterday and move towards the middle. Instead, they moved even further towards the Tea Party,” Reid said Thursday. 

Reid set up a cloture vote Monday night on legislation that funds the government but removes the cut to the energy program. He said lawmakers needed the weekend to "cool off."

But Reid's legislation is unlikely to move forward; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) predicted it would be defeated. 

House Republican leaders assailed Reid for blocking their measure and said their conference would leave town on Friday afternoon. 

"The Senate can't even pass the bill that Harry Reid has," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said after the House adjourned for the week. 

“Harry Reid is arguing with himself. This is why people don’t like Washington,” Cantor said.

Pressed on whether he was ruling out a return by the House next week, Cantor left the door open: “If we are back, that means Harry Reid has shut down FEMA.”

GOP leaders have given members no indication as of Friday afternoon that they will need to return next week. The whip's office reminded lawmakers that no further votes are scheduled until Oct. 3. 

"I just think I'll do what I'm told," Rep. Bob Turner (R-N.Y.) said as he finished his first full week as a member of the House. 

Other rank-and-file Republicans said they expected to be back next week.

The brinkmanship could put federal disaster aid in the balance. While the federal government has money to run through Sept. 30, FEMA could run dry on Monday without further congressional action, officials in both parties said.

The House GOP bill that passed early Friday morning finances the government through Nov. 18 and includes $3.65 billion for FEMA.

“While we moved a responsible bill, it’s time for the Senate to move the House-passed bill,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in an impromptu news conference Friday, just as the Senate began voting to table the House measure. “It really is the most responsible thing to do, and any delay that occurs because of inaction by the Senate will only imperil the needed disaster relief for thousands of families all across the country.”

By pushing ahead with a tweaked version of his original bill, Boehner hoped to pressure the Senate with time running out on FEMA. 

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"I urge the Senate to quickly pass this bill so we can send it to the president and keep our focus on the American people’s top priority: jobs," Boehner said on Thursday. "This common-sense measure cuts spending for the second year in a row and protects our struggling economy from the uncertainty of a government shutdown."

Republicans pointed out that while Reid said on Friday that he had been assured that FEMA "is not running out of money," he issued the opposite warning on Thursday, saying the agency's funds could be gone as early as Monday.

Republicans on Friday focused the entirety of their press briefing blasting Democrats for holding up the disaster aid, which Democrats support, while ignoring the sticking point: the $1.5 billion cut to a clean-vehicles program that would partially offset the disaster aid.

Democrats oppose any offsets to the emergency funding, arguing that it would set a bad precedent that could delay federal help to victims of future natural disasters. Republicans counter that disaster aid has been offset with spending cuts in the past, including when Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) ran the House.

The Democrats also oppose this particular offset, which would gut the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program, a Bush-era direct loan program designed to help the nation's automakers create new fuel-efficiency technologies.

Both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers oppose the offset provision, warning that the cut would eliminate thousands of jobs.

To drive home their argument that Senate Democrats would be denying disaster relief to communities, Boehner and Cantor invited two Republican members from flood-ravaged areas of Pennsylvania, Reps. Lou Barletta and Tom Marino, to join them at their press conference.

Both lawmakers described the damage in their districts, saying the money was desperately needed for families who had lost their homes.

“This is unconscionable what Mr. Reid is attempting to do,” Marino said.

“Sunday night we stop helping these people,” Barletta added. “We need help, and we need it now.” 

Barletta initially opposed the House GOP spending bill on Wednesday because it did not contain as much FEMA funding as a separate, $6.9 billion disaster aid bill the Senate approved last week. House Democrats on Wednesday tried to replace the Republicans' emergency-funding provision with the Senate language — a move blocked by Republicans.

He switched his vote on Friday, he said, over assurances from Boehner and Cantor that whatever money was needed would be there. 

Hopes appeared dim for a quick resolution.

Boehner said he spoke to Reid on Friday and repeated that there “wasn’t much progress made” and that the House bill was crafted based on discussions among leaders of both parties in the House and Senate.

“The House upheld its end of the understanding,” Boehner said. “It is a bipartisan bill that we sent over. It is a reasonable, responsible approach,” he said.

This story was initially posted at 11:51 a.m. and updated at 2:38 p.m.