The U.S. House defeated a spending bill providing $3.65 billion in aid to victims of recent natural disasters and needed to prevent a government shutdown, a surprise setback to Republican leaders.
Republicans unhappy with the measure’s overall cost joined Democrats opposed to a proposed cut in an auto industry-loan program to derail the measure Wednesday, 230-195. Opposing the legislation were 48 Republicans and 182 Democrats; backing it were 189 Republicans and six Democrats.
The defeat raises the prospect of a government shutdown because the bill would fund the government until Nov. 18. The fiscal year ends Sept. 30, and Congress is in recess next week. There was some talk today that legislators may have to work through the weekend.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, a Kentucky Republican and the measure’s main author, said he doesn’t know what will happen next.
“This is the sausage factory,” he told reporters before heading into his office, using the phrase with which lawmakers often describe the bill- crafting process.
Legislative leaders rarely schedule a vote on a major bill without being assured of the outcome, and the House’s top Republicans had been expressing confidence that the spending bill would pass.
Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, said after the vote that the Ohio Republican and other leaders would “continue to work on a responsible plan that can pass” the chamber.
The vote was the latest evidence of Boehner’s sometimes tenuous grasp on a chamber stocked with tea party-backed freshmen as well as veteran lawmakers determined to cut spending. Many of those who broke ranks in the vote were the same ones who forced Boehner to postpone a July 28 vote on his proposal for raising the U.S. debt ceiling while reducing spending.
The eventual compromise reached with President Barack Obama on the debt-ceiling dispute passed the House on Aug. 1 with support from 95 Democrats, while 66 Republicans opposed it.
The defeat of the stopgap funding measure Wednesday also hints at the trouble Republicans could face later this year in attempting to pass a catch-all “omnibus” bill needed to fund the government for the entire 2012 fiscal year.
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, said after Wednesday's vote that Republican leaders would have to be more responsive to Democratsto pass the current bill. “If they expect our votes, they have to work with us,” Hoyer said.
Many rank-and-file Republicans objected to provisions in the bill that would allow discretionary spending next year to reach $1.043 trillion, which was part of the deal to raise the federal debt ceiling.
Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who opposed the measure today, complained the figure was $24 billion more than the party agreed to spend when it passed a 2012 budget in April.
“Why in the world would we add $24 billion?” Flake asked. “It’s a disaster.”
Representative Tim Huelskamp, a freshman Republican from Kansas who voted against the measure, said that because he didn’t support the debt-ceiling measure he felt no compunction to agree to the spending levels in the current bill.
“Not nearly good enough,” Huelskamp said of his leadership’s legislation.
Democrats lined up against the measure because it would be partly financed by a $1.5 billion cut to a program offering loans to automakers and parts manufacturers to help develop more fuel-efficient technologies. Along with arguing the cut would hurt the auto industry, they said disaster aid has traditionally been treated as an emergency need that is financed with borrowed money.
“We warned them — we told them that an anti-jobs provision would not work,” Rep. Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said after the vote. “When we’re working for jobs, you can’t vote for an anti-jobs bill.”
The vote occurred after U.S. markets closed. In Asia, stocks and oil slumped and South Korea’s won slid to a one-year low. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index dropped 1.7 percent as of 9:21 a.m. in Tokyo. Standard & Poor’s 500 Index futures rose 0.1 percent following a three-day slump in the U.S. stocks gauge. Treasury 10-year yields fell to a record low.
The legislation includes $3.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $226 million for the Army Corps of Engineers —funding to help victims of Hurricane Irene and the earthquake centered in Virginia that occurred Aug. 23, as well those affected by tornadoes and wildfires that have struck the nation’s midsection.
Republicans have promised more aid later after they had more time to examine the administration’s funding requests.
The bill’s defeat may strengthen the hand of Senate Democrats who have called for an additional $3 billion in assistance now, as well as jettisoning the auto-loan cuts.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the chamber’s No. 3 Democrat, called on House Republicans to approve the Senate’s draft of the legislation. He said Democrats will not renegotiate spending levels for 2012, calling that a “nonstarter” in the Senate.
“It will not get anywhere and it will risk shutting the government down,” Schumer told reporters.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, urged Republicans to drop plans to offset the cost of disaster aid, saying the funding should be considered an emergency. Landrieu, who heads the appropriations panel responsible for disaster relief, said FEMA officials have told her they will run out of existing funds for disasters as early as Sept. 27.
“There are many people in many states who are wondering how in the world Congress could spend $1.3 trillion on wars and rebuilding Iraq and Afghanistan without one offset,” said Landrieu, while “we’re having difficulty getting a vote on $6.9 billion for Americans rebuilding their own farms, homes, bridges, and communities.”
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