By Mike Lillis - 03/05/13 05:35 PM EST
House Democratic leaders have decided against uniting their party's rank and file in opposition to a Republican spending bill that would fund the government.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said the GOP's continuing resolution (CR) both threatens the economy and violates the spending levels agreed to under the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA). But in an acknowledgment that the Democrats are all but powerless to block the CR on the House floor, Hoyer said leaders would not pressure their troops to oppose it.
"We're not whipping at this point in time," Hoyer told reporters in the Capitol. "We don't want to shut down the government."
Hoyer's comments came just an hour after Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.), senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said the proposal will be "devastating" to vulnerable Americans and she's "recommending" that Democrats oppose it.
Hoyer acknowledged Lowey's opposition campaign, but clarified that party leaders won't be twisting arms.
Hoyer on Tuesday declined to say whether he himself will support the CR, which, among other provisions he opposes, includes a pay freeze on federal employees that would hit hard in his D.C.-area district. He said he's hopeful the Democrats can amend the bill before Thursday's final vote, though that scenario is unlikely.
With even conservative Republicans expressing their approval of the CR, passage in the House appears increasingly likely, regardless how the Democrats vote.
Hoyer said he has not talked to Rep. Kevin McCarthy (Calif.), the Republican whip, about the possibility that GOP leaders will need Democratic votes to pass the bill.
Under current law, the government's spending authority expires on March 27. The Republicans' CR, unveiled Monday, would extend that authority through Sept. 30. The $984 billion package takes steps to cushion the effects of the sequester on the Pentagon and veterans programs, but the $85 billion cuts would hit almost all other agencies, stirring an outcry from Democrats that federal programs aimed at helping low-income people will be harmed.
Hoyer called the CR a "clever" device the Republicans have tapped to claim support for the $1.043 trillion spending included in the BCA, while actually supporting the sequester that drops that level much lower. The Maryland Democrat said he's hopeful Senate Democrats will remove the sequester cuts, and that they'll stay gone in any negotiations with House GOP leaders later this month.
"The objective is to get back to the agreement that we made at 1.043," he said, conceding that House passage of the CR this week is all but certain.
Hoyer also hammered GOP leaders for repeatedly using the threat of economic crisis to pass legislation.
"We're doing stupid things here," he said.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday said he has no intention of allowing a government shutdown.
"Our goal is to cut spending. It’s not to shut down the government. So we’re going to move this CR this week, and we would hope that the Senate would take this bill up and move it quickly," Boehner told reporters.
"I’m not going to predict what the Senate will or won’t do with our bill, but I would hope they would take it up expeditiously and pass it."