The House early Friday morning narrowly passed a GOP-crafted stopgap funding bill despite overwhelming opposition from Democrats and several Republicans, setting up a showdown with the Democratic-controlled Senate, with a possible government shutdown at month's end at stake.
The measure passed by a vote of 219 to 203, with 24 Republicans joining 179 Democrats in voting no. Only six Democrats supported the bill.
The bill, which includes what all sides agreed was critical relief money for victims of several recent disasters, now moves to the Senate, where Democratic leaders have vowed to defeat the measure.
"This [bill] lives up to the Republican commitment to responsible and reduced levels of spending, and helps right our fiscal ship while still supporting essential government programs and services," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, Kentucky Republican.
"It is critical that the Senate now pass this [bill] and send it to the president as soon as possible."
Friday's vote, which concluded shortly before 1 a.m., was the second attempt in as many days to pass a so called "continuing resolution" to keep the government funded once the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
On Thursday, 48 conservative Republicans joined 182 Democrats to defeat a similar measure, delivering a stinging rebuke to the House GOP leadership. The conservatives complained the measure spent too much, while Democrats balked at $1.5 billion in cuts to a clean energy program that Republicans insisted be used to pay for some of the disaster relief.
Some Democrats also complained that $1 billion of the bill's $3.65 billion slated for disaster relief aid would be offset by spending cuts, saying the practice would set a dangerous precedent because it could delay the distribution of critical emergency funds.
"Assistance at a time of a natural disaster should not be a controversial issue. It hasn't been before," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat. "We're not going to balance the budget on the backs of people who have already been hit by a disaster."
But House Republicans leaders won over several GOP defectors by including an additional $100 million in spending cuts from a program that financed a federal loan to the now bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra Inc.
The bill, which 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, federal agencies would be starved for cash and forced to shut down most services when the next fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, urged the Senate to quickly pass this bill "so we can send it to the president and keep our focus on the American people's top priority: jobs"
Yet even if the bill clears the House before the Sept. 30 deadline, it faces significant challenges in the upper chamber.
Senate Democratic leaders have complained that the $3.65 billion Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funds included in the House measure is insufficient, proposing instead a $7 billion disaster-aid package. Republicans oppose the provision because it isn't offset with cuts elsewhere.
"We're fed up with this," said Senate Democratic Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat. "They know what it takes for us to extend (stopgap funding) and keep the government in business. And this brinksmanship … we're sick of it."
A senior Senate Democratic aide said Thursday evening the House bill was "dead on arrival" in the Senate.
Meanwhile, time is running short for disaster victims, as FEMA has said its main disaster aid account could run out as early as early next week.
"We have stretched this as far as it can go," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told the Associated Press Thursday as she flew to Joplin, Mo., to view tornado damage. "We are scraping the bottom of the barrel."
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