As expected, Senate Republicans filibustered legislation Thursday to simultaneously keep the federal government open and invest in infrastructure and housing projects — a significant setback for efforts to bridge budget disagreements and avert a shutdown this fall.
The vote was 54 in favor, 43 against, falling short of the 60 votes needed to move forward. The only member to cross party lines was Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who helped write the bill and urged colleagues not to block it — to no avail.
“It has been an open and transparent debate thus far, a return to regular order, something that I have heard virtually everyone here urge us to do,” she said. “Nevertheless, some senators are intent on preventing this legislation from moving forward, despite the fact that this bill is not the final version of the transportation and housing appropriations bill. It is only one step in the process but an essential step.”The crux of the disagreement is that Republican leaders insist on setting domestic spending at levels ordered by sequestration. Democrats, by contrast, want to replace the automatic, across the board cuts and instead set spending at levels agreed to in the 2011 Budget Control Act before sequestration slashes them further.
Six Republicans voted with Democrats on the higher spending levels when the bill was before the Appropriations Committee: Sens. Collins, Thad Cochran (MS), Lisa Murkowski (AK), Mark Kirk (IL), John Hoeven (ND) and Jerry Moran (KS), who chairs the Senate GOP’s election arm. But a concerted whipping effort by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) compelled all but Collins to vote to filibuster the transportation, housing and urban development bill.
At a Capitol press conference immediately after the vote, Democrats, flanked by construction workers, fumed over the filibuster, accusing McConnell of arm-twisting his members and letting concerns about his reelection drive the outcome. The vote comes one day after House Republicans abruptly pulled THUD legislation from the floor, which cuts deeply into housing and transportation programs, after deciding it lacked the votes to pass.
“Shame on them,” cried Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL).
McConnell said afterward that his opposition was driven by a desire to “keep our word” on spending levels agreed to in 2011. TPM asked him if he’ll insist on keeping domestic spending at sequestration levels but he dodged the question, saying he wouldn’t negotiate publicly.
Democrats haven’t decided what they’ll do next. Lawmakers will go home this weekend and not return to Washington until September. The filibuster is a blow to the hopes of reaching an accord to keep the federal government open after funding runs out on Sept. 30, because the plan was to pass a bill through the Senate and pressure the House.
“It would be so unfortunate if we go home to our constituents in August and are forced to tell them that we’re unable to do our job,” Collins said before the vote.