With a Friday midnight deadline looming, House Speaker John Boehner rallied a divided Republican caucus to vote more time to negotiate a deal over spending for the current fiscal year – or at least to cast Democrats as responsible for a government shutdown if talks with the White House and Senate Democrats fail.
The latest stopgap measure, called a continuing resolution, is the third since Republicans took control of the House in January. It extends funding for fiscal year 2011 through April 15. It also provides $515.8 billion for defense funding through the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, adds $12 billion new spending cuts, and attaches various policy riders, such as a measure banning the District of Columbia from using local tax dollars to fund abortions.
Even before the vote, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada dubbed the measure “dead on arrival,” and President Obama pledged to veto it. In a statement before Thursday’s vote, the White House called the measure “a distraction from the real work that would bring us closer to a reasonable compromise.”
Resistance was also formidable within House Republican ranks. Fifty-four Republicans broke ranks with their leadership on March 15 to oppose the last continuing resolution, suggesting that Congress should move significant budget cuts or shut down.
Yet on Thursday, Boehner won back all but six of those House Republicans with a carefully calibrated package that included military funding and a dramatic increase in the level of cuts.
To date, Republicans have demanded $2 billion in cuts for every new week of government funding. The new measure calls for $12 billion. Freshman Rep. Marlin Stutzman (R) of Indiana was one of the 54 who voted against the earlier continuing resolution. But he voted with GOP leaders today because the measure included “funding for the military through the end of the year and pushed harder on the cut end of things.”
As the White House and congressional leaders renewed talks Thursday evening, Republican senators asked for the chance to vote on the continuing resolution.
“If my Democratic colleagues would prefer not to shut the government down, then don’t do it,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions (R) of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee, who called on majority leader Reid to allow a vote on the Senate floor on the House measure.
But Senator Reid showed no indication of budging. Senate Democratic leaders say that the impasse is no longer spending cuts, it’s the social-issue riders – such as defunding Planned Parenthood – that tea party freshmen demanded be included in the package as a price for their support.
"This is not a debate between Democrats and Republicans, it’s a debate between Republicans and Republicans," said Reid in a brief statement on the Senate floor before heading to the White House. "They cannot decide on social issues that have not been resolved in 40 years.”