Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Another day, another looming Republican-triggered government shutdown

The House stunned Republican leaders Wednesday by rejecting a temporary spending bill that would have funded the government through Nov. 18.

The vote failed, 195-230, after Democrats pulled their support for the bill and Republican leaders were forced to scramble for enough votes entirely within their own ranks. Four dozen conservatives voted against the bill because it left spending levels for 2012 higher than the cap set in the House GOP budget.

The defeat hands leverage to congressional Democrats in a dispute over federal disaster funding. Democratic leaders objected to a GOP provision cutting funding from a Department of Energy manufacturing loan program to offset additional money for disaster relief.

The House and Senate must pass a spending bill by Sept. 30 to keep the government running into the next fiscal year. Both chambers are scheduled to be out on recess next week.

The defeat was a stinging loss for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), who pitched the measure to his conference as the lowest spending number they could get.

House GOP leaders retreated to the Speaker's office after the vote to plot their next move.

Who's to blame for this? Well, Democrats combined with renegade right-wing Republicans to defeat the bill, and perhaps Democrats did embarrass Boehner and gain a modicum of leverage (even though the GOP will never let them use it; Republicans are better then Democrats at the game of political chicken, as we saw during the whole debt ceiling debacle), but basically it's the Republicans who, once more, are pushing the country to the brink of a federal government shutdown, just as they almost pushed it into default, by insisting on unacceptable offsets for disaster relief funding:

Republican opposition was based on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) attachment of $1 billion in disaster relief funds in the wake of Hurricane Irene and other natural disasters, which Republicans, including Cantor, had demanded be offset by spending cuts in other areas. Last week, Cantor promised that no one in the House Republican caucus would hold disaster relief hostage over spending cuts — an assertion that today's vote has apparently proven false. Democrats opposed the offsets Republicans did find, which targeted funding for energy efficienct vehicles. A bipartisan Senate majority approved $7 billion in disaster relief funds last week.

Of course, we knew Cantor was going to do this. He's been playing politics with disaster relief for some time now. And this is basically the GOP's budget strategy: make extremist demands and get what it wants, refusing to compromise even with a president who has been more than willing to give in to its demands, or shut down the government.

I suppose this was, as Kos's Joan McCarter writes, "a major blow for House Republican leadership in their shutdown brinksmanship game," but the risk is that Republicans won't learn the obvious lesson and try to work out a reasonable deal with the Democrats.

"With Democrats willing to hold together against the offset, John Boehner will have no choice if he really wants to get this bill passed and avoid a shutdown," Joan adds. Sure, but do they really want to avoid a shutdown? Boehner maybe, and those willing to back him on this one, but many Republicans, particularly in the House, have proven again and again that they put their extremist right-wing ideology first, regardless of the consequences. And given how much they hate government, and particularly the federal one, they may just do that again. And Boehner may not be able to do a thing about it.

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