- Remove the offset and Democrats will support it, Rep. Hoyer says
- House Republican leaders consider revising the measure
- The short-term spending measure falls on a 195-230 vote
- 48 Republicans join Democrats in opposing it
In a major blow to the Republican leadership, the U.S. House on Wednesday defeated a temporary spending measure that would have required spending cuts to offset additional money for federal disaster relief efforts.
The vote was 195-230, with 48 Republicans joining all but a handful of minority Democrats in opposing the short-term spending plan that would keep the government funded for seven weeks after the end of the fiscal year on September 30.
After the result, House Republican leaders met in Speaker John Boehner's office to decide if they would revise the measure and hold another vote on Thursday. Options under consideration included removing or changing the spending offsets opposed by Democrats, or reducing the total amount of spending to appease conservative Republicans.
At issue was a short-term bill to fund government agencies through November 18 that would allocate fewer resources to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers for disaster response than the Democratic-led Senate approved last week.
Additional funds are needed because of recent major floods from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee along the East Coast, and wildfires in Texas that required emergency responses exceeding the amount the agencies have left in their coffers to support recovery and rebuilding efforts.
The House measure included a total of $3.6 billion in disaster relief money -- $1 billion in emergency funds available when the bill is enacted and another $2.6 billion to be budgeted for those federal response agencies for the 2012 fiscal year that begins October 1.
In addition, House Republican leaders are insisting that the $1 billion in immediate disaster funding be offset with $1.5 billion in cuts to a loan program that helps automakers retool their operations to make more fuel-efficient cars.
Democrats objected to cutting spending for disaster funding, calling it unprecedented and politicizing emergency relief for Americans. Conservative Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, argued that the nation's expanding deficits require as much spending restraint as possible.
Earlier this month, President Barack Obama asked Congress for a total of $5.1 billion in additional disaster aid --- $500 million of which was for immediate relief.
Last week, the Senate bill that passed with bipartisan support included $6.9 billion for FEMA and other federal agencies for immediate disaster relief and for relief in 2012. The Senate version required no spending offsets.
The impasse could leave the government without funding after September 30 if Congress fails to authorize further spending, which would cause a partial shutdown. Cantor, however, said no shutdown would occur.
"Suffice it to say there's not going to be a shutdown," Cantor told reporters. "I think everybody needs to relax. We're trying to affect change in a way that we spend taxpayer dollars - that's what this whole thing is about. No one is denying anyone disaster aid if they need it, and we're trying to be responsible and to do the right thing."
Meanwhile, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the chamber's No. 2 Democrat, said his party would support the measure if the offset provision was removed.
"They put something in that was clearly, we think, a job killer," Hoyer said of the offset that would eliminate the loan program for manufacturing fuel-efficient vehicles. During floor debate on the measure, Hoyer and other Democrats complained that any kind of offset would be unprecedented for emergency funding to help Americans in need.
"Even if they had the best offset in the world, I still think it's wrong" to require equivalent spending cuts when getting money to disaster victims, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-California.
To Hoyer, the defeat of the GOP measure "says that we are continuing to struggle to do things in a bipartisan fashion."
If House Republicans "expect our votes, they have to work with us," he said. "They can't just give us something and say ... their way or the highway."