Dems try to rally troops against GOP bill to prevent shutdown

Citing the sequester cuts, House Democratic leaders are lining up against a Republican bill to fund the government that is scheduled for a vote on Thursday. But Democratic leaders have decided not to whip members for the vote, acknowledging that the Democratic minoirty is near powerless to block the GOP bill from passing the House.

The lawmakers said the spending levels in that continuing resolution (CR), which keep in place the $85 billion in sequester cuts that began on March 1, would threaten federal programs for the poor and vulnerable.

Although President Obama has strongly suggested that he doesn't want the sequester debate to result in a government shutdown, Democrats say they intend to vote against the spending measure and are encouraging their troops to do the same.

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"We don't want the CR to be used to further the sequester cuts," Rep. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters in the Capitol after a caucus meeting Tuesday. "I myself will be voting against this resolution."

Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, argued Republicans have codified the sequester cuts and taken ownership of them through the spending bill.

"If you want to take ownership of it, this is a good way to take ownership of the sequester," Crowley, also a "no" vote on the bill, said.

Behind Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), Republicans on Monday unveiled their plan to extend the government's spending authority through the remainder of fiscal 2013, which ends Sept. 30. The GOP plan increases funding for the Pentagon and a number of veterans programs, but it keeps 10 other appropriations bills at current levels while retaining the sequester cuts.

Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said Democrat recognize the importance of having the Pentagon and veterans programs funded at 2013 levels.

"But you cannot bring two of the 12 bills up to the FY13 level and cut, essentially, the other 10 bills," she said. "Because that means education, it means healthcare, it means air traffic controllers and on and on and on. So I'm recommending a 'no' vote as well." 

Still, Democratic lawmakers concede they are powerless to block the CR in the GOP-controlled House, as even conservative Republicans appear to be rallying behind it. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) acknowledge his party's weak position.

"We're not whipping at this point in time," Hoyer told reporters Tuesday in the Capitol. "We don't want to shut down the government."

It remains to be seen what the Senate intends to do with the bill, as some upper-chamber Democrats — notably Appropriations Committee Chairman Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) — are pushing for an omnibus spending bill in lieu of the CR.

Without congressional action, the government's spending authority expires March 27, which would result in a shutdown of most federal agencies and departments.

Updated at 1:33 p.m.

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