Congress

GOP, Obama stop liberal revolt, push through budget to narrowly avert shutdown

The U.S. Capitol where Congress has returned for a lame duck session
The U.S. Capitol where Congress has returned for a lame duck session McClatchy

Overcoming strong objections from liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans, the House of Representatives passed a $1.1 trillion spending package late Thursday, funding most of the federal government through September with hours to spare before the government was scheduled to run out of money.

By a 219 to 206 vote, lawmakers approved a package of 11 spending bills to finance most government agencies for the coming fiscal year and one short-term measure to fund the Department of Homeland Security through Feb. 27, 2015.

House lawmakers then approved a short-term funding measure – continuing resolution – by voice vote to give the Senate time to act on the huge budget bill. The Senate then acted without dissent to keep the government open for two more days to give itself time to debate the longer term package.

The last minute maneuvers to avert a shutdown capped a day of high drama in which liberal Democrats led by Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., balked at parts of the bill, just as the majority Republicans were losing some conservative votes and were desperate for relp.

Though the 1,600-page bill was a bipartisan measure crafted by House and Senate appropriators and negotiated by congressional leaders in both parties, the bargain threatened to unravel Thursday afternoon as Democrats strenuously objected to two provisions.

One would change the Dodd-Frank financial regulatory overhaul by giving banks more freedom over their derivatives business, loosening controls put in after the 2008 financial crash.

The other would allow individuals to give to the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees far more than now permitted for recounts and other legal initiatives and the same amount for each committee’s building fund. This would be in addition to the current $32,400 limit.

The Democratic complaints revealed a split with President Barack Obama on the bill. Earlier in the day, the White House released a statement supporting the bill despite its objections to the Dodd-Frank and campaign finance provisions.

“It is a compromise and it does fulfill many of the top line priorities that the president himself has long identified,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

But Pelosi gave a full-throated denunciation of the two provisions on the House floor. She said she wouldn’t vote for the spending bill but added that Democrats were free to vote their conscience.

Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., the ranking Democrat on the House Financial Services Committee, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a rising star among liberals, publicly and privately lobbied against the bill. Warren, who’ll join the Senate leadership team next year, even reached out to Republicans to reject the bill.

“I urge my Republican colleagues in the House to withhold their support from this package until this risky giveaway is removed from the legislation,” Warren said on the Senate floor. “It is time for all of us to stand up and fight.”

After an afternoon procedural vote on the bill passed by only two votes – with no Democrats voting yes – Republican leaders abruptly placed the House in recess. Pelosi fired off a “Dear Colleague” letter urging her troops to stand their ground against the provisions they consider odious.

“It is clear from this recess on the floor that the Republicans don’t have enough votes to pass the ‘Cromnibus,’” Pelosi wrote. “This increases our leverage to get two offensive provisions of the bill removed: the bank bailout and big money for campaigns provision.”

She added: “However you decide to vote in the end, I thank those who continue to give us leverage to improve the bill…Stay tuned.”

The Democratic defiance sent the White House scrambling to the phones and to Capitol Hill in search of “Cromnibus” votes. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough met with Democrats behind closed doors to explain the administration’s stance on the bill.

As he exited the meeting, McDonough only said “a great opportunity, I really appreciate it.”

A source in the closed-door meeting said Pelosi told Democrats “I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do. We have enough votes to show them never to do this again.”

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, desperately needs Democratic votes for the bill because several Republicans won’t vote for it, mainly because they believe it doesn’t’ do enough to attack Obama’s executive action that granted a temporary reprieve from deportation proceedings for more than four million immigrants living in the country illegally.

Some seven hours after the sudden recess, lawmakers returned to House floor and voted on the bill. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., repeated Democratic objections to the bill but said he would vote for it. Retiring Rep. James Moran, D-Va., a House appropriator, reminded his colleagues that the bill was a compromise and urged them to weigh the benefits to Democrats and their constituents over the two provisions.

“In 20 years with appropriations bills, I haven’t seen a better compromise in terms of Democratic priorities,” Moran said as he left the closed-door meeting with McDonough. “Implementing the affordable care act, there’s a lot more money for child development…We got virtually everything Democrats tried to get.”

The 1,600-page bill wraps 11 spending bill into one package that would fund the federal government through Sept. 30, 2015. It also has a measure that would fund the Department of Homeland Security only until Feb. 27, 2015.

Republicans pushed for the short-term measure for Homeland Security to pressure or punish President Barack Obama for his November executive action that granted a temporary reprieve from deportation proceedings for more than four million immigrants living in the country illegally.

The 1,600-page bill provides $521 billion for defense and $492 billion for non-defense items, sticking to spending levels capped by a two-year agreement hammered out in December 2013 by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

It also contains Overseas Contingency Operations funding to combat the threat posed by the Islamic State and $5.4 billion in emergency funding to deal with the Ebola crisis domestically and overseas.

The bill represents one of the final acts of the 113th Congress, considered one of the least productive in U.S. history. It’s been routinely criticized for its partisan acrimony and propensity for waiting until the very last minute for getting must-pass legislation done.

Outside conservative groups such as Heritage Acton and the Club for Growth are also urging lawmakers to vote no on the bill, calling it another example of big-spending government run amok.

“Christmas has come early for the big spenders in Congress who have been experiencing long-term withdrawal from the earmark ban,” Andrew Roth, the Club for Growth’s vice president of government affairs, wrote in a message sent to congressional offices this week. “Not only is the ‘Cromnibus’s’ contents unacceptable to fiscal conservatives, but so should the process by which it was made.”

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