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Senate Democrats Up the Ante on Shutdown Showdown

Updated: 2:10 p.m.

Congress is in the midst of another showdown over a government shutdown after Senate Democrats held firm against the House Republican effort to cut more than $1 billion to help pay for disaster relief.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) set a 5:30 p.m. Monday vote on his alternative bill, which would strip the budget cuts out of the House bill but keep the House’s $3.6 billion level of disaster spending. Reid refused offers from Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to hold the vote today and commence negotiations.

“Everyone once in a while needs a little cooling off period,” Reid said. “The government is not shutting down. FEMA is not out of money. We’ll come here Monday, more reasonable heads will prevail and I would hope over the weekend that the four leaders can lead their troops in the right direction.”

McConnell said the Democrats argument that past disasters have simply been added to the deficit isn’t a good one.

“The whole ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ argument is the reason we’ve got a $14 trillion debt right now,” McConnell said.

The Senate voted down, 59-36, the House-passed stopgap spending bill in a move intended to force Republican leaders to the bargaining table on government funding and disaster aid. The procedural vote to table the continuing resolution was designed largely to show the House that Senate Democrats will not vote to pass the measure as is.

Senate Democratic leaders said the House measure is unacceptable because it would delete $1.1 billion from clean energy and vehicle efficiency funds that Democrats said help create jobs. They also complained it doesn’t provide enough disaster relief funding. The Senate passed a nearly $7 billion disaster relief bill last week.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said she was pleased that Democrats were hanging tough.

“I don’t know where we’re finding this backbone, but it’s good,” she said after the vote. “We normally cave.”

She said the issue came down to jobs.

“We’re not going to allow the Republicans to slash the potential to create 50,000 jobs in America under the guise of helping FEMA,” she said.

House Republican leaders, however, were unmoved, saying the Senate should pass its bill and avert a government shutdown.

“I had a conversation with the Senate Majority Leader before. … Not much progress was made,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said today as the Senate voted.

While a government shutdown would not occur until Oct. 1, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to run out of money Monday, Boehner said. Even if it eventually passes both chambers, the CR would only fund the government through Nov. 18, meaning another showdown over government funding could be just two months away.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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