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The late decision by the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee to oppose the continuing resolution on Wednesday has the potential to sour relations on a committee long known for its bipartisan tone.
The House voted down the stopgap spending measure, 195-230, and although 48 Republicans voted against the measure, it was the “no” vote of Appropriations ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) that particularly stung GOP leaders. Immediately after the vote, Erica Elliott, a spokeswoman for Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), said in a statement, “This bill was designed to pass with Democrat votes, in part based on assurances from Reps. Dicks and [Minority Whip Steny] Hoyer that they would vote for it. Frankly, it’s shocking as many Republicans voted for it as did.”
Dicks had testified alongside Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers at a Sept. 15 Rules Committee hearing, backing the CR despite his reservations about it.
But hours before the bill came to the House floor Wednesday, Dicks phoned the Kentucky Republican to deliver some news.
“He called me and told me his leadership was very concerned about the vote. And I told him I understand,” Rogers said Wednesday.
Dicks cited several reasons for his switch.
“You know, members of leadership positions are elected in the House, so you have to take that into account, and you have to listen to your members,” he said, adding that he spoke with beneficiaries of government funding that would have been cut to pay for disaster funding in the CR and “they made a very powerful argument that, why should they be taking jobs away from some states to pay for disaster in other states.”
Dicks’ vote switch, caught the GOP off guard and left the bill vulnerable to opposition by 48 Republicans on the party’s right flank who wanted a lower overall spending figure. Only six Democrats voted for the bill.
On Tuesday, Hoyer indicated his opposition to how Republicans planned to pay for disaster relief in the CR, saying Democrats “will be loath” to back the bill.
But he also said, “the CR needs to pass” and added that “we have not yet made a decision on what we will do on this. I know Mr. Dicks’ comments [in support of the CR], and I agree with his comments.”
Hoyer was also signaling to Republicans privately that Democrats would be opposing the bill on the floor, according to Republican and Democratic sources.
By the time Wednesday rolled around, Hoyer announced that the “great majority” of Democrats would oppose the bill and that he would be whipping against it. Dicks announced his opposition as well.
The move caused an embarrassing floor loss for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). But it could also roil the waters in the Appropriations Committee, historically a place where party labels are far less important than the rest of the House.
“It certainly starts off the negotiations on the FY12 bills on the wrong foot and chips away at the trust between both sides,” a GOP aide said.
Rogers and Dicks have both played nice in public.
“We have a good working relationship,” Rogers said Wednesday, before the CR went down on the floor, “I understand his situation.”
Dicks said today that the two already had begun working together on a way forward on the CR.
But he did seem to chafe at accusations from Republicans that Democrats had ambushed them on the vote.
“It’s their responsibility to put 218 votes up on the floor on their legislation, OK? And I helped bail them out on the CR last year, we bailed them out on the omnibus. But that’s when we had a bill that was acceptable on our side,” Dicks said.
“There was no ambush,” Hoyer said today. “I said in my pen-and-pad that my view was that Democrats would not be supportive of the bill as it was presented.”