We should know tonight whether Congress is in genuinely the throes of another government shutdown fight, or whether Democrats and Republicans will figure out a way to avoid their impulses.
Instead of cutting a deal with Democrats to keep the government funded, and re-up FEMA’s disaster aid fund, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is trying to build support by dangling carrots before reluctant Republicans and whacking Democrats with sticks.
As reported, about four dozen House conservatives don’t support the existing government funding bill or “continuing resolution” because it does not, in their minds, slash enough money from federal programs. Democrats oppose the bill en masse because it also includes a requirement that federal disaster aid be twinned with cuts to particular federal programs, in order to offset the cost — a highly unusual, and controversial requirementOn Wednesday night, that left Boehner shy of the votes he needed to pass the legislation. On Thursday, he had to choose between moving left or moving right, and he chose to move right. Not, as conservatives want, by slashing overall government spending, but by tacking yet another disaster relief offset on to the existing legislation.
According to a senior GOP aide, Republican leaders want to amend the bill by cutting about $100 million from the loan guarantee program that extended funds to Solyndra.
One-hundred million dollars is chump change compared to the $1.043 trillion bill they’re debating. But this particular cut allows Republicans to crow ever louder about Solyndra, and, as an ancillary benefit, attack any Democrat who votes against the CR as voting to protect the Solyndra slush fund (or whatever they’ll call it). That could entice some House conservatives into Boehner’s camp, and perhaps scare more Democrats into voting for the bill as well.
If the CR passes tonight, Senate Democrats will have to decide whether to dig in, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) has promised, or to fold. Senate Dems want more disaster aid than the House bill provides, and they don’t want to help Republicans establish a precedent of using disasters as leverage to force partisan budget cuts. But they don’t want a shutdown either.
Reid and his caucus will hold an emergency meeting at 6:45 p.m. Thursday night to figure out how to proceed. The House vote is expected by 10 p.m. If it passes, and if Senate Dems decide they can’t abide by it, we’ll be going down to the wire again. The lights go out in Washington at midnight on September 30.