WASHINGTON -- House Republicans set the stage early Friday for another fight over government funding, passing a stopgap bill that Senate Democrats say will not make it through the Senate.
The bill, which funds the government until Nov. 18 and provides emergency disaster aid to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, passed in a 219 to 203 vote, mostly along party lines. Two dozen Republicans voted against the bill.
It won almost full support from Republicans, an improvement for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) over a failed vote on a nearly-identical funding bill just a day prior. But to win over members in his own conference, Boehner and other GOP leaders inserted a provision that would make it even more unpalatable to the other side, adding more offsets for disaster funding that Democrats say should not be offset at all.
Senate leaders said they will not back down, offering to stay in session next week to ensure FEMA and government funding are in place.
“The bill the House will vote on tonight is not an honest effort at compromise," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement before the vote. "It will be rejected by the Senate. …. The Senate is ready to stay in Washington next week to do the work the American people expect us to do, and I hope the House Republican leadership will do the same."
Both chambers settled on a funding figure for the government more than a month ago, while setting the terms for a debt ceiling increase. But since then, a number of disasters have occurred that made emergency funding for FEMA a necessity.
Republicans, urged by their constituents to cut as much government spending as possible, moved to offset disaster funding in the continuing resolution by cutting $1.5 billion from an energy loan program. But those spending cuts were not enough for 48 Republicans, who voted on Wednesday against the funding bill in hopes for higher cuts. Leaders responded with one addition that, though relatively small, went after a program that provided loans to the failed and politically embarrassing Solyndra company, a solar energy company once hailed by the Obama administration as a model green company, but now under an FBI investigation after filing for bankruptcy last week.
Senate Democrats rejected the idea that disaster aid should be offset at all, arguing Congress should approve aid first and find the money later.
“The feeling in there [the caucus] is we’re fed up with this,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said after a caucus meeting on Thursday. “They know what it takes for us to extend the [continuing resolution] and keep the government in business and this brinkmanship of maybe we will and maybe we won’t -- we’re sick of it, we’re tired of it. The American people are sick of it too.”
They stuck to a firm message they have used all week: Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were approved without offsets, so why should emergency disaster aid be subjected to them?
"The general [sense] was look, we're dealing with folks who spend money on nations overseas unpaid for all of the time," Rep. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said Thursday. "They're unwilling to pay for nation-building here, and it's wrong."
The question now will be whether the House and Senate can come to an agreement -- and when. Either way, both sides have said it will be the other's fault if disaster aid is delayed by partisan bickering.
"The Senate should pass this bill immediately, and the president should sign it, because any political games will delay FEMA money that suffering American families desperately need," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said Thursday in a statement.