Senate Democrats say it was only because Senate GOP leaders decided to cut a deal on government funding and disaster aid that they were able to avert a government shutdown at the end of this week.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refused to sign off on an offer that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) made to him over the weekend, only to have brinkmanship-weary Senate Republicans undercut the Speaker by striking a deal with Reid on their own, according to a Senate Democratic leadership aide.
The reluctant embrace Monday of the Democrats’ bill by Senate Republican leaders sealed the agreement that allowed the continuing resolution to pass the Senate, Congressional aides said. The Democratic measure passed the Senate on Monday night 79 to 12.
Under the Senate-passed CR, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund would receive $2.6 billion. That is an effective cut of $1 billion from the House bill, but it allowed Senate Democrats to eliminate a $1 billion offset on which the House had been insisting.
The House-passed bill would have provided $3.6 billion for FEMA. Of the $3.6 billion, about $1 billion was targeted for fiscal 2011 and would have been offset by cutting two existing programs designed to subsidize alternative energy technology. The offset was included in the bill as an effort to try to reduce the deficit, which House Republicans have made their mission this Congress.
When Reid decided to eliminate the offset and the extra $1 billion in disaster aid, he was relatively confident that Senate Republicans would back the Democratic proposal, the Democratic aide said. Democrats reasoned that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would have trouble keeping GOP Senators from states affected by disasters from voting for the Democratic bill. After all, the Kentucky Republican had 10 defections on a more expensive disaster bill just two weeks ago.
Also, the Senate on Friday had defeated the House bill, on a motion to table, 59 to 36. And in a vote Monday, a different compromise from Democrats did not win enough votes to cut off debate.
So, according to Democrats, McConnell was faced with either voting Monday on the final Reid proposal and it winning the day, or waiting until closer to the government shutdown deadline of this Friday to cut a similar deal.
A Senate Republican leadership aide, however, said House and Senate GOP leaders were working together, fully aware of the situation and in agreement on how to proceed. The aide dismissed the notion that there was any division between House and Senate Republican leaders.
“Given a choice between the Speaker and Senate Democrats, we know where our fortunes lie,” the aide said.
Republicans contend that Congressional leaders last week had been working toward an agreement that entailed enacting a House-passed CR. But Senate Democrats decided to change course, which caused House Democrats to withhold their votes for the CR, according to House and Senate GOP aides. Democratic opposition and the defections of 48 Republicans caused the original CR to fail in the House last week. A Democratic aide said that there was never an agreement for the Senate to take the House measure.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.