With an eye to protecting themselves politically in case of a government shutdown, House Republicans passed legislation on Thursday that would fund the federal government for another week and pay for the Department of Defense through the rest of the fiscal year.
But the bill, which passed the House 247 to 181, appears dead on arrival in the Senate as the White House has threatened to veto the measure. Passage of the bill would allow House Republicans to blame Senate Democrats for not passing the measure if there is a government shutdown midnight Friday.
"Now I think we all know that no one wants a shutdown and there is absolutely no policy reason for the Senate not to follow the House in taking these responsible steps to support our troops and keep the government open," said House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio.
Republicans say the week-long bill cuts $12 billion from current levels, but critics say it in fact cuts only $4.4 billion versus fiscal 2010 spending. That's because the bill cuts $12 billion overall but adds $7.6 billion to the Pentagon budget, Steve Ellis, vice president of the nonprofit Taxpayers for Common Sense, noted in a statement Thursday.
"While answering our constituents' calls to reduce excessive government spending, this bill provides time to negotiate in an honest way to do what is not only right for our constituents, our nation, and our financial future," said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. "Let's pass this bill, and finally get this leftover work from last year behind us."
The current short-term funding measure expires at midnight Friday. Failure to pass any extension by then would lead to a government shutdown. House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the White House have been negotiating intensely to try to come to a compromise and avoid that outcome.
Rogers said the cuts have been part of negotiations and agreed to by Democrats. The bill also includes a ban on using federal funds for abortion in the District of Columbia, which Republicans argue was the law until recently.
But the White House said the GOP's move, which would be the seventh short-term extension since the end of the last fiscal year, was not productive towards finding a deal for the remainder of the fiscal year.
"After giving the Congress more time by signing short-term extensions into law, the president believes that we need to put politics aside and work out our differences for a bill that covers the rest of the fiscal year," the White House said. "This bill is a distraction from the real work that would bring us closer to a reasonable compromise for funding the remainder of fiscal year 2011 and avert a disruptive federal government shutdown that would put the nation's economic recovery in jeopardy."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said both he and Obama found the House proposal unacceptable. "The president has told the speaker that. I've told the speaker that," Reid said.
The one-week bill "is a nonstarter," Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Chairman Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
Democratic aides and senators said this week the proposal has no chance of Senate passage.
But Senate Republicans say it could pass easily if Reid brought it to the floor. They say the bill contains cuts that would be included in a deal on the six-month and note all its other parts have passed the Senate before.
"The bill that House Republicans will send over to the Senate today is nothing more than a smaller version of the larger bill that Democrats say that they want," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a speech urging Reid to move the one-week bill.
In a morning floor speech, Reid said Senate Republicans had joined Democrats and Obama in telling Boehner that the one-week bill is unacceptable to the Senate. GOP leadership aides said that statement deliberately distorts McConnell's counsel to Boehner. McConnell told Boehner to add the one-year defense extension to the bill to improve its odds of Senate passage, the aides said.
Meanwhile, House Democrats urged Republicans to pass a "clean" continuing resolution free of the abortion rider and the spending cuts.
House Minority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., made an effort to get a unanimous consent agreement on such a measure at current levels, which he said "would be signed by the president, will keep the government open." But Republicans did not go along. The House also voted to kill an effort by Democrats to send the bill back to the Appropriations Committee to prepare a clean version.
With time running out before the weekend deadline House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., announced that lawmakers may work this weekend.
"We are committed to getting our fiscal house in order and to keep the government functioning. Therefore members should keep their schedules for this weekend as flexible as possible," said Cantor, to the cheers of fellow Republicans.