Funding bill struggles for votes as government shutdown nears

 

A $1.1 trillion bill to keep the government open appeared to be teetering Thursday after House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) announced her opposition and the package narrowly survived a procedural vote.

The House went into recess shortly after 2 p.m. after the debate on the bill had concluded, and as the hours passed it became increasingly clear the package lacked the votes for approval.

The White House backs the bill and has mounted an intense campaign to save it that included a trip by White House chief of staff Denis McDonough to Capitol Hill.

President Obama and members of his administration have been furiously working the phones to try and save the funding bill ahead of a government shutdown at midnight.

McDonough met with House Democrats at a private meeting and pled for them to support the package, which would provide funding for most of the government through September 2015.

"It was a great opportunity, I really appreciate it," McDonough said as he left the meeting. 

After McDonough left, House Democrats remained in their meeting, where they are deciding their next moves.
 
And it was not immediately clear whether the chief of staff had changed any minds.
 
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said McDonough "did a good job of articulating the concerns of what happens" if Congress ends up approving a series of short-term funding bills.
 
"I don't know that he moved a lot of people," Bluemenauer said. 
 
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) also said McDonough appeared to change few minds. "I don't think so," he said before laughing.
 
Republicans appeared to be waiting to see if the White House effort would prove successful. Republicans say they need at least 40 Democrats to back the package given expected GOP defections.

GOP aides initially insisted on Thursday the spending bill would go forward, but later acknowledged that they were considering a three-month continuing resolution as a fallback measure.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), a senior appropriator who supports the $1.1 trillion package, said Democrats would get a worse deal with a three-month spending measure. 
 
"If we let this bill go down, it's a travesty. And in three months, Democrats will look back and ask, 'What did we do to ourselves?'" Moran said.
 
Moran said he would vote against a three-month stopgap measure.

Pelosi, who on Thursday appeared in full revolt against the White House, in a letter to her colleagues, said it was "clear" that Republicans didn't have the vote and said that dynamic had given them "leverage" to press for changes.

She and other Democrats are outraged over language that changes the Wall Street reform law and are demanding that it be stripped from the package.

Pelosi in a floor speech Thursday afternoon harshly criticized the language on Wall Street and a separate provision allowing wealthy political contributors to greatly increase their annual donations to political committees.

“It will not have my support,” Pelosi said. “This is a moral hazard. We're being asked to vote for a moral hazard.”

She also expressed her deep disappointment in the White House's position, even as other Democrats warned they would not be intimidated by the president.

White House officials throughout Thursday have defended the bill, with press secretary Josh Earnest taking to MSNBC to argue that the administration had given "Democrats in the House multiple opportunities to negotiate the best deal possible."

"Democrats should be on board with this bill," Earnest said, calling it a "good deal."

But that argument doesn’t appear to be enough for many liberals in the House and Senate, who are aligning behind Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) who is leading the charge against the bill.

A group of about 25 House liberals huddled Thursday afternoon with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services panel.

Funding for the government expires at midnight, meaning Congress must approve a new funding bill on Thursday to keep the government open.

The Senate is waiting for the House to take action on a funding measure before determining its own next steps.

Rep. Charlie Dent, one of a handful of Pennsylvania Republicans who were huddling in the Speaker's office Thursday evening, said Republicans would need about 50 Democratic votes to pass the cromnibus. 
 
"It's in everyone's interest to pass a real appropriations bill," Dent told reporters. "There's a strong majority of House Republicans who will vote for the bill. The question is how many Democrats can you get?"

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said Congress may have to pass a short-term CR that funds the government until Feb. 27, but added that nothing had been decided yet. 

Earlier on Thursday, a procedural vote to approve the House rule governing debate on the spending package was narrowly approved in a 214-212 vote, in another sign the bill is in trouble.

Democrats united in voting against the rule, leaving Republicans to struggle to pass it.

For several minutes, there were more "nay" votes than "yes" votes by 210-213. Then, for a moment, it was tied at 213-213.

It was at that point Boehner intervened. Fellow lawmakers and reporters in the gallery could see Boehner personally lobbying conservatives who voted against the rule to switch their votes.

One of the lawmakers who switched was Rep. Kerry Bentivolio (R-Mich.), who lost his primary earlier this year and won't be returning in the new Congress.

Rule votes are generally tests of party unity on the floor, but a number of Republicans have repeatedly bucked Boehner. In this case, many conservatives are upset that the spending package does not do more to curtail President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

Rogers urged lawmakers during the debate to avoid a government shutdown.

"This prevents a costly and damaging government shutdown while making good government funding and policy decisions and reining in regulatory overreach," Rogers said. "Passage of this bill will show our people that we can and will govern responsibly."

 
Scott Wong, Mike Lillis and Kevin Cirilli contributed to this piece.
 
This story was last updated at 7:37 p.m.