Democrats Turn Back GOP’s Piecemeal Funding Strategy

Posted October 1, 2013 at 8:06pm

House Republicans tried to soften the blow — in reality and politically — of a government shutdown Tuesday with bills that would provide funding for veterans, for national parks and for the District of Columbia. But Democrats said no.

Republicans tried to pass the three bills under suspension of the rules, in which a two-thirds majority is required. But Democrats, who characterized them as face-saving measures after forcing a government shutdown, refused.

The House rejected the veterans affairs funding bill, 264-164, with 33 Democrats joining all Republicans in support of the measure. The national parks bill was rejected 252-176, with 22 Democrats joining all but one Republican (Rep. Don Young of Alaska) in support of the measure; the D.C. funding bill was rejected 265-163, with 34 Democrats joining all Republicans in support of the measure.

House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions, R-Texas, said his panel would bring the three bills up under a rule on Wednesday, so Republicans could pass the measures with a simple majority. It’s an open question whether Sessions would allow Democrats to have a standard motion to recommit on the bills, for fear that Democrats would force Republicans to go on record opposing a “clean” CR through a procedural vote.

House Republicans had hoped to force Democrats to concede to fund the government piece by piece by putting generally noncontroversial bills on the floor, or, at least, make Democrats reject funding popular programs.

Leading up to the government shutdown, Democrats joined with Republicans in both chambers to overwhelmingly pass a bill that would ensure the troops continued to get paid in the event of lapsed appropriations.

But Democrats largely united against the mini-continuing resolutions in a statement against the Republicans’ gesture of “cherry-picking” certain programs and functions to reopen, going with the low-hanging fruits and not more contentious agencies such as the IRS and the EPA.

“The idea of shutting down the whole government and then when we get adverse reaction from our constituents we pick and choose, we open up a few. What happens tomorrow when the Social Security Administration comes to us and says, ‘What about the 16,000 employees we just furloughed?'” said Rep. James P. Moran, D-Va., who went on to call the strategy an “act of desperation” and “a band-aid.”

“They took hostages by shutting down the government and now they are releasing one hostage at a time,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Knowing they would be denied, Democrats took turns offering unanimous consent requests for the House to bring up the Senate’s “clean” CR. Time and time again, the presiding officer, Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., shot down the requests.

Democrats tried the tactic so many times that Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., made a point of order to ask, “At what point does it become dilatory activity inconsistent with proper decorum of the House?”

The White House said earlier in the day that President Barack Obama would veto the stand-alone CR’s should they make their way to the Oval Office — that outcome is unlikely, as Senate Democrats have declared their unwillingness to engage with House Republicans in such a tactic.

“How does the White House justify signing the troop funding bill, but vetoing similar measures for veterans, National Parks, and the District of Columbia?” asked Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, in a statement. “The President can’t continue to complain about the impact of the government shutdown on veterans, visitors at National parks, and DC while vetoing bills to help them.

“The White House position is unsustainably hypocritical,” Steel said.

The bill to fund the operations of the District of Columbia through Dec. 15 was perhaps thought to be a gift to Democrats, who have traditionally aligned themselves with D.C. residents more so than their GOP counterparts in the fight for self-determination. But Democrats turned away the measure, sticking to their broader political strategy to defeat the piecemeal bills in defiance of the new Republican approach.

Rep. José E. Serrano, D-N.Y., a longtime ally of the District and ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee that has jurisdiction over D.C. affairs, suggested that he would have to avoid Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., for the next few days, suggesting that his “no” vote would have consequences for their relationship going forward.

“This is a sham of a process and a fake bill, designed by the tea party, for the tea party and of the tea party,” said Serrano. “This is part of a trick.”

At one point appearing as though she were close to tears, Norton delivered an impassioned plea for members to vote to fund D.C. through the government shutdown.

“What would you do if your local budget was here? Would you mention it in the same breath with the HHS budget or the Labor Department budget or the VA’s budget?” Norton said. “Don’t dare compare us to your appropriations. I understand the resentment on my side to what is being done here, but carry out your resentment without putting us in a position of a thing.”

Republicans, for their part, expressed — perhaps even feigned — shock that Democrats would vote against the bill.

“I can’t believe the gentleman would oppose this bill,” said Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky. “This is a clean-funding mechanism, nearly identical to what was included in the initial clean continuing resolution.

“This funding is solely local and does not come out of the federal covers. they will fund critical district programs, law enforcement, safety, the schools and other essential municipal activities. I can’t believe that I’m hearing opposition to that from that side of the aisle or any side of any aisle,” Rogers said.

But Democrats continued to insist the issue wasn’t over funding D.C.

“This debate is heartbreaking to me,” said Norton, maintaining that Republicans were playing politics with D.C. “This is a living, breathing city.”