WASHINGTON — An unusual bipartisan coalition in the House of Representatives Tuesday passed legislation to keep the government running through Nov. 18, but the opposition of dozens of Republicans signaled that more bitter budget clashes loom this fall.
Even passage of the six-and-a-half-week budget, which the Senate approved last week, wasn't the quick, routine task it should have been.
It was delayed first by discord over federal disaster aid — most Republicans said it should be offset by cuts elsewhere, Democrats thought otherwise — and then by conservative protests that it didn't cut enough.
In the end, 170 Democrats joined 182 Republicans in voting yes, while 53 Republicans and 13 Democrats voted no, for a final tally of 352-to-66.
The bill wound up as the latest chapter in a prolonged Washington drama, one likely to resume in a few weeks as conservative Republicans demand more budget cuts and liberal Democrats try to preserve funding for safety net programs like home heating aid.
"Potentially, it's a problem," Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, a senior House appropriations committee member, said of the dissenting Republicans.
In the last six months, partisan gridlock over the budget has threatened the government with two shutdowns, one in April and one last week. In addition, the government came close to default in August, avoiding that fate only when lawmakers approved a last-minute agreement to increase the nation's debt limit.
Looming now are two more budget deadlines: Nov. 18, when the current spending authority ends, and Dec. 23, when Congress must act on recommendations from the bipartisan super committee studying ways to cut the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
Failure to act by Nov.18 would probably mean a partial shutdown of the government. Failure to act on the super committee plan would lead to automatic spending cuts starting in 2013.
Conservatives have shown little appetite for much more compromise. The 242-member Republican caucus includes 87 GOP House freshmen, many of whom were elected with the vocal backing of the tea party and are loath to agree to higher spending or increased taxes.
"We have an independent streak about as wide as America is, and that's the way America's supposed to work," said Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.
Republicans who voted no Tuesday did so largely because they thought the measure had not cut enough. They noted that earlier this year, the House budget set spending levels, which were generally not followed in the bill passed Tuesday.
"We need to get more serious about budget discipline," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.
The biggest budget battle is likely to come within the next six weeks. Spending policy and plans are supposed to be contained in a dozen separate bills, all to be passed by Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year.
None have been approved, and lawmakers could try to wrap up spending for the rest of the fiscal year, which runs through Sept. 30, 2012, into one big bill.
But there are serious disagreements on how to spend the money. For instance, House Republican appropriations committee leaders said last week they want to deny the Obama administration funds to implement the 2010 federal healthcare law. Democrats will fight that idea.
Conservatives insist there need to be spending cuts far more dramatic than in the past.
"We hate omnibus (catch-all) bills. We came here to change the way we're doing business, not to just cut some money here and some money there," said Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah.
And despite Tuesday's bipartisanship, conservatives believe they have the political momentum. Analysts think they could be right.
"Republicans are either true believers on the tea party right or worried tactically about a challenge from this quarter," said Burdett Loomis, professor of political science at the University of Kansas. "If everyone is looking right, no one is looking toward the center, where formerly normal political deals were made."
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