House passes supplemental spending bill
Republicans got their first taste of the high drama that will flavor the appropriations process this year when the leadership- backed supplemental "emergency" spending bill came perilously close to failing on the floor Wednesday evening.
When the 15-minute voting time had expired on the bill, Republicans had fallen short of a majority to pass the bill, which provides $1.3 billion in disaster assistance to Central America, aid to Jordan and farm relief.
But Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio, who was in the chair, held the vote open. To cries of "regular order" from Democrats, GOP leaders tried to persuade dissenting Republicans to come back to the party fold.
Among those Republicans who had last-minute changes of heart were Reps. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, Donald Manzullo of Illinois, Scott McInnis of Colorado, James Rogan of California, and Joe Barton of Texas.
Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., had a private conversation with fellow Illinoisan Manzullo at the back of the chamber, and Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, met with Graham and others.
By the time LaTourette gaveled the vote down, Republicans had boosted their vote total to 220, enough to pass the measure, with 211 voting "no."
Republicans knew they might have a problem passing the bill because of the focus of fiscal conservatives on $195 million in spending that was not offset by other spending cuts.
When an amendment by Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., to offset the money failed on the floor, several conservatives voted against the bill. These Republicans had some support from Democrats with agricultural districts, as well as some Hispanic members.
But according to a leadership aide, GOP leaders had received advance assurances from several Republicans that they would be willing to switch their votes if the bill appeared headed toward failure.
"There weren't any sweetheart deals cut at the end," said the aide. "Anything that happened, happened beforehand."
One factor working in the GOP leadership's favor may have been a last-minute decision by some Democrats to switch from supporting the bill to opposing it once it appeared headed toward failure, according to the aide.
In another twist, some farm state Democrats switched from opposing the bill to supporting it, once it appeared that Republicans had turned the tide. Democratic Reps. Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota and David Minge of Minnesota both switched their votes from "no" to "yes."
"I voted for it when it became clear it was going to pass and the next best place to fix it was in the conference committee," said Pomeroy, who said he was left in a "terrible position" because he favored farm aid but opposed the offsets.
The close vote could foreshadow other problems for Republicans during this year's appropriations process.
"I understand that this is going to be a very difficult year for appropriations," said Appropriations Chairman Bill Young, R-Fla. "There's going to be contentious issues all year long, especially when the president and the leaders of both houses say we're going to work within the [spending] caps of the budget agreement."