President Obama had to plead with fellow Democrats on Thursday night to try to avert a looming government shutdown after his troops in the House rejected the $1.1 trillion spending deal to fund the government
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi delivered a stunning public rebuke, saying Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats were trying to “blackmail” her caucus. She urged Democrats to stand firm in their opposition, offering a hint of the divisions that threaten to rend their party over the next two years as they become the minority in Congress and the president’s lame-duck status is cemented.
“Here we are in the House, being blackmailed — being blackmailed — to vote for an appropriations bill,” she said.
Republican leaders, meanwhile, were facing their own rebellion from conservatives who thought the GOP gave up too much, cutting a deal now even though when their power and leverage will only increase beginning in January.
After a seven-hour delay, Republicans announced they would force a vote and see where things stood. The vote came too late for this edition.
But with a midnight deadline looming and neither side eager for a government shutdown, lawmakers were also expecting to pass a short-term stopgap bill to carry federal operations for several days to give both chambers more time to finish up.
Congress must also deal with nearly four-dozen expiring tax cuts, the annual defense policy bill and a package that extends federal guarantees for terrorism insurance — all before lawmakers shut down for the year. The House had been slated to finish up business Thursday, but the spending fight ruined their quick getaway plans.
The 1,600-page bill funds basic government operations, and gives both sides some victories.
GOP negotiators who wrote the bill claimed victory by punishing the IRS in slicing more than $300 million from the agency’s accounts, and by denting some of Mr. Obama’s environmental policies.
Meanwhile, Democratic negotiators said they’d been able to ensure money for some of their health and infrastructure priorities, locking in one last year’s worth of money before they lose their majority — and their leverage — in the Senate.
“We got virtually everything Democrats wanted to get,” said Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat. He said his party’s negotiators were able to block dozens of restrictions on Mr. Obama’s environmental policies that the GOP had wanted to insert in the bill — changes the GOP would be able to make next month when they take control of the Senate.
“If we let this bill go down it is a travesty,” he said. “In three months, Democrats are going to look back and say ‘what did we do to ourselves and to our constituents?’”
Mr. Obama was belatedly making calls to try to save the deal, and he deployed his chief of staff, Denis McDonough, to an hours-long closed-door Democratic meeting Thursday night.
But House Democratic leaders were battling back.
Mrs. Pelosi said she couldn’t stomach provisions that would raise the limit on campaign donations to national political party committees and that would allow banks to trade derivatives with government-insured funds.
Most of her colleagues in the House Democratic Caucus rallied with her.
Rep. Bill Pascrell, New Jersey Democrat, said he didn’t accept that Democrats will get a worse deal next time.
“We’ll fight that fight at that point also,” he said. “I think it’s always a good time to fight.”
Combined with House conservatives’ objections, the bill appeared far short of the majority needed as of Thursday night — though nobody was quite sure of the count on either side.
Previous shutdown showdowns involved a stand-off between House GOP leaders on the one hand and Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama on the other.
But in Thursday’s fight all three of those forces were aligned, and it was House Democrats who were the chief obstacle, objecting to a bill that had been negotiated by their own party leaders at the White House and in the Senate.
Indeed, even as Mr. Obama was making phone calls in the afternoon to try to win supporters, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, was making calls urging Democrats to hold firm in their opposition.
Mrs. Pelosi also seemed to add to the obstruction when she released a letter urging the liberal rebellion to hold firm, saying they believed they were the “leverage” she needed to force Senate Democrats and House Republicans to rewrite the bill.
“I’m glad President Obama is on the phone talking to Democrats. I wish Pelosi and the president would get on the same page,” said Rep. Robert Pittinger, North Carolina Republican, as the recess dragged into early evening.
The drama began early in the day when the House voted on the rules for debate for the spending bill. Republicans were able to win that vote, but only after twisting arms of conservatives for a narrow 214-212 victory.
Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, a Michigan Republican who lost his primary election earlier this year, provided the final key vote. After he filled out the vote card officially switching, he walked down the aisle to jeers from Democrats and handshakes and back-slaps from Republicans who’d been in danger of seeing their work scuttled by the rebellion.
House Democrats’ stance served as a rebuke to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, both Democrats, who signed off on the compromise that was reached with House Republicans.
But it also appeared to be a rejection of Mr. Obama, who belatedly signaled his support Thursday, waiting until after the narrow victory on the rules for debate before laying out his position in a lukewarm policy statement.
Indeed the statement, while saying the president supported the bill, was non-committal beyond that, spending more time on problems with the legislation than on urging its passage. Mrs. Pelosi even read parts of the policy statement on the floor as evidence for why Democrats should oppose the legislation.
Sensing it was losing the fight, the White House ramped up its efforts, with press secretary Josh Earnest finally making a case for voting for the legislation.
He pointed to money to fight Ebola, the funding boost for the president’s plans to combat the Islamic State, money to fund the White House’s childhood education program, and more money for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Mr. Earnest said Democrats were also able to prevent Republicans from adding language restricting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Those were part of the compromise that allowed the changes in derivatives. Mr. Reid, meanwhile, had sought the campaign finance changes.
“We can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others,” Mr. Earnest said, calling the deal the first test of the type of bipartisan cooperation Mr. Obama wanted to see after his side took a drubbing in November’s elections.
Senate Democratic aides questioned the House Democrats’ strategy, saying they will get a worse deal if they wait for Republicans to take control of the Senate next year, giving them complete power over the spending process.