By Erik Wasson and Pete Kasperowicz - 03/16/11 12:21 AM EDT
The House on Tuesday approved legislation to prevent a government shutdown for another three weeks, despite defections from 54 Republicans.
The 271-158 vote gives President Obama and GOP leaders a small window of time to reach an agreement on a measure to fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year. The short-term measure could be approved by the Senate as early as Wednesday.
The 54 Republican “no” votes stood in sharp contrast with the vote on the last stopgap measure, on March 1, when only six Republicans voted against their leaders. In both cases, GOP leaders had brought legislation to the floor that cut federal spending at a rate of $2 billion per week.
A larger number of Democrats also voted no, and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) has already vowed that Tuesday would be the last time he’d support a short-term measure.
Republican opponents expressed frustration with the bill’s $6 billion in cuts, which they said was too little. They also criticized the absence of language defunding the new healthcare law and Planned Parenthood, which GOP leaders kept out of the bill to ease Senate passage.
GOP leaders whipped hard on the vote, convincing most of the freshmen members to back the legislation.
Still, the number of defections led Democrats in the House and Senate to argue the GOP is in a weakened negotiating position over a longer-term spending bill.
“They cannot agree with themselves,” said Hoyer. He called for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to distance himself from Tea Party conservatives and forge a compromise between centrist Republicans and Democrats.
Hoyer said Boehner should abandon the additional cuts conservatives muscled into the bill introduced by GOP leaders that would have cut $35 billion in spending this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. After an uproar from conservatives, GOP leaders rallied around a bill that would cut spending by $61 billion.
“I would hope that the majority of the caucus would sit down with us and come up with a number that is between what they think we have offered and the number that Mr. Boehner offered originally to the crowd that has abandoned him,” Hoyer said.
That would put the debate between $35 billion and the $10 billion in cuts offered by Democrats.
Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), who is heading Senate Democrats’ messaging effort in the fight, repeated his call for Boehner to abandon the Tea Party.
“Speaker Boehner wouldn’t have been able to pass this short-term measure without Democratic votes, and he won’t be able to pass a long-term one without Democratic votes either,” he said.
Republicans shot back that the defections are a display of strength that enhances the GOP’s hand in negotiations with Senate Democrats on a longer-term bill by showing the backbone of its conservative wing.
“I would suggest to the minority leader that there is a strong contingent within Republican ranks that [believes] we are not making progress fast enough,” National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) told The Hill.
“I think this is tremendous leverage for leadership,” said conservative Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who voted against the measure. “Now, the [majority] leader and the Speaker have said we have taken this as far as we can go, and our members are not going to take it further unless we can get something.”
King also said conservative Republicans were writing their leaders to demand that the next measure include language defunding the healthcare law.
Rep. Scott Garrett (N.J.), the conservative Republican Study Committee’s budget guru, said conservatives are giving Boehner plenty of room to negotiate with Senate Democrats and realize they will not get 100 percent of what they want.
Garrett, who also voted no on Tuesday, said conservatives simply are pushing for the best deal they can get.
Republicans leaders on Tuesday acknowledged that a longer-term bill is preferable, but blamed Senate Democrats and Obama for failing to put forth an alternative spending bill that can pass the Senate.
Fewer Democrats crossed party lines to support the new continuing resolution. While 85 Democrats voted with Republicans, 104 supported the GOP on the last vote. Many of the “no” votes came from liberals who think the cuts are already going too far.