The unexpected result was an embarrassment for House GOP leaders who have at times struggled to rein in a conservative wing that remains closely allied with the anti-spending Tea Party movement.
The measure was narrowly defeated on a 230-195 vote, after Democrats pulled back their support at the last minute in protest to budget cuts made to offset increased federal disaster funding.
The vote demonstrated the continued reluctance of Tea Party conservatives to compromise on spending issues, even as the public grows weary of repeated confrontation on Capitol Hill. “This is a democracy. This is the sausage factory,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, who sponsored the bill.
The House bill already faced opposition in the Senate, where Democrats flatly reject that FEMA funds be offset by spending cuts. FEMA could run out of funds as soon as Monday, according to the LAT.
Republican leaders said that they would figure out a way to pass the spending bill and to avoid disrupting everything from national parks to scientific research. Democrats were opposed because the measure contains $1.5 billion in cuts to a government loan program to help car companies build fuel-efficient vehicles.
For their part, many Republican conservatives felt the underlying bill permits spending at too high a rate. “There is not going to be a shutdown. Everybody needs to relax,” said Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 House Republican, as he emerged from a meeting with other top Republicans after the vote.
House Speaker John Boehner tried to rein in Republicans to get the bill through. But he failed to overcome opposition from the party’s conservative wing, who reject the spending bill as too high.
This outcome sends House Speaker John Boehner and his leadership team back to the drawing board as they seek to make sure the government doesn’t shut down at the end of next week.
It also raises the possibility that the government’s main disaster relief program could run out of money early next week for victims of Hurricane Irene and other disasters.
“At the bottom line, the disaster victims have to be treated far more fairly than they did today,” said Democratic Senator Charles Schumer.
Later in the evening, a panel approved a measure that would allow the House to quickly reschedule another vote. But it was not clear how the substance of the bill might be changed.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency now has only a few days’ worth of aid remaining in its disaster relief fund, lawmakers said Wednesday.
The agency has already held up thousands of longer-term rebuilding projects — repairs to sewer systems, parks, roads and bridges, for example — to conserve money to provide emergency relief to victims of recent disasters.
The agency has requested $5.1 billion to replenish its disaster fund, which could dry up entirely next week. FEMA has has already suspended rebuilding efforts across the country. [via Reuters, Fox News and Business Insider]