Conservative Republicans joined House Democrats on Wednesday to defeat a stopgap funding bill that included what all sides agree is critical disaster-relief money, delivering a stinging rebuke to the GOP's leadership, which now must scramble to avert a government shutdown at the month's end.
The conservative Republicans said the bill — which keeps the government running into the next fiscal year — spent too much, while Democrats balked at the cuts to a clean energy program that Republicans insisted be used to pay for some of the disaster relief.
"This vote sent a clear message to Republicans: The American people want a bipartisan approach to running our government," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. "We should immediately pass disaster relief that meets the needs of our people and protect — not cut — programs proven to create jobs while we reduce the deficit."
The bill was defeated by a vote of 230-195, with 48 Republicans voting no. Six Democrats supported the measure.
House Republican leaders now must regroup and try again. All sides say they want to avoid a government shutdown. But with Congress scheduled to be out of town next week, time is running out to reach a compromise on the temporary funding bill.
The so-called "continuing resolution" that would fund the government through Nov. 18 is necessary because Congress failed to send any of its 12 annual appropriations bills to the White House. Absent the measure, many federal agencies would be starved for cash and forced to close when the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Even if the bill clears the House before the deadline, it faces challenges in the Senate. There, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, has said he will replace it with a version that includes a $7 billion disaster-aid package. Republicans oppose the provision because it isn't offset with cuts elsewhere.
The House bill included $3.65 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help disaster victims. FEMA has only a few days' worth of aid remaining in its disaster relief fund.
A major sticking point in the bill was a $1.5 billion cut from a federal loan program for the development of more fuel-efficient vehicles — $1 billion of which would be used to help pay for the disaster aid money. Democrats oppose the program cut, saying it could cost thousands of jobs.
"We shouldn't have to choose between creating jobs and caring for those struggling in the aftermath of disasters," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "This isn't about paying for the disasters, this is about destroying an initiative that is job-creating, that is innovative, that keeps American No. 1."
Complicating matters for House GOP leaders was a group of more than 50 conservative House Republicans who complained the stopgap funding bill exceeds a discretionary spending cap House Republicans agreed to earlier this year.
"Despite strong rhetoric calling for austerity, merely a month after the debt ceiling deal was passed, Congress is back to increasing spending," said Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican. "This is not what we should be doing."
But agreeing to the conservatives' demands would force House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, to go back on a spending levels agreed with Democratic leaders as part of the summer's debt limit deal.
In the Senate, the bill requires 60 votes, meaning at least seven Republicans must join the Democratic caucus for it to succeed. Ten Republicans voted with Democrats last week to pass a stand-alone disaster aid measure, though it's uncertain how many — if any — would side with Mr. Reid on the latest package.
Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania were among those who voted with Mr. Reid last week, but they told reporters Wednesday that they'll instead support the partially funded House version, the Associated Press reported.
If two more Senate Republicans switch, Mr. Reid would no longer have the 60 votes he needs.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was confident a deal will be worked out by the end of the week.
"We always respond to disasters in this country, and we're going to respond to this one in an appropriate way," the Kentucky Republican said Tuesday. "Exactly how we get from where we are to the end of the trail by Thursday night, I couldn't tell you."
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Sean Lengell covers Congress and national politics and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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