WASHINGTON — House GOP leaders Wednesday halted debate on an austere measure that was full of cuts to transportation and housing programs and community development grants, a setback for their budget strategy of embracing the stark spending levels dictated by automatic spending cuts known as sequestration.
GOP aides said there wasn't enough time in a busy House floor schedule to continue debate, but House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., said it was apparent there weren't the votes to pass the bill.
As the House measure faltered, a companion bill in the Senate seemed likely to be killed by a GOP filibuster on Thursday for the opposite reason. It breaks the budget limits of sequestration, the automatic cuts required by Washington's failure to strike a bipartisan budget deal.
The twin developments reflect the broader dysfunction in Washington over the budget. All sides want to reverse the crippling sequestration cuts but a partisan impasse over tax increases sought by President Barack Obama and his Democratic allies and cuts to so-called mandatory programs like Medicare and food stamps demanded by Republicans shows no signs of breaking.
Congress leaves Washington this week for a five-week vacation; the battle will be rejoined in the fall.
Cuts in the House transportation measure were made deeper by a Republican move to cut an additional $40 billion-plus from domestic programs and transfer the money to the Pentagon. That left the transportation measure $10 billion, or about 18 percent, below the Senate's bill.
Rogers, who often is cautious in his public statements, issued an unusually harsh blast, saying halting debate on the measure reflected a failure of Republicans to follow up on their promises to cut spending with binding legislation.
"With this action, the House has declined to proceed on the implementation of the very budget it adopted just three months ago," Rogers said. He said the failed transportation and housing measure was the first major attempt by Republicans to pass an appropriations bill at levels consistent with the sequestration cuts and that the failure of the bill meant it was time for a new approach.
"The House, Senate and White House must come together as soon as possible on a comprehensive compromise that repeals sequestration, takes the nation off this lurching path from fiscal crisis to fiscal crisis, reduces our deficits and debt, and provides a realistic topline discretionary spending level to fund the government in a responsible – and attainable – way," Rogers said.
Some House conservatives vow to oppose every spending measure, while the cuts in the bill may be too deep for more moderate Republicans. Also on Wednesday, a bitterly divided Appropriations Committee debated a $24.3 billion measure funding the Interior Department and the Environmental Protection Agency at levels 19 percent below those passed earlier this year.
A spokesman for GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California said the Republican majority's top vote counter was confident he would have been able to round up enough votes to pass the bill if there were more time for debate.
The move comes as companion legislation in the Senate may be filibustered to death on Thursday by Republicans because it exceeds budget levels called for under the automatic budget cuts.
"Voting for appropriations legislation that blatantly violates budget reforms already agreed to by both parties moves our country in exactly, exactly the wrong direction," Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said.
"The collapse of the partisan transportation and housing bill in the House proves that their sequestration-on-steroids bills are unworkable, and that we are going to need a bipartisan deal to replace sequestration," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chief author of the Senate bill. "And while we work toward that, we should pass the bipartisan Senate transportation and housing bill and show our constituents that we are putting them and their communities above partisanship and political games."