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Posted at 04:20 PM ET, 03/15/2011

House approves three-week government funding measure, sending it on to Senate

Updated, 6:20 p.m.

A stopgap bill that would keep the federal government funded through April 8 whle cutting $6 billion was approved by the House on Tuesday, setting up a vote in the Senate not long before the measure currently keeping the government running is set to expire on Friday.

The three-week stopgap, which had encountered an eleventh-hour wave of opposition from conservatives, passed the House on a 271-to-158 vote, a narrower margin than the 335-to-91 vote two weeks ago on the previous short-term spending bill.

The latest measure was backed by 186 Republicans and 85 Democrats, while 104 Democrats and 54 Republicans opposed it. Earlier this month, only six Republicans joined 85 Democrats in opposing the previous stopgap.

Another contrast evident in Tuesday’s vote was the shift in Democratic support; on Tuesday, more Democrats opposed the measure than supported it, while earlier this month, Democratic supporters outnumbered opponents. Neither party’s leadership was keeping close track of how members were going to vote no Tuesday’s bill.

The funding bill now moves on to the Senate, where it is expected to pass easily. Only a handful of senators thus far have indicated they will oppose the measure. If President Obama does not sign a spending bill by Friday, much of the government would be forced to shutter its doors.

Tuesday’s vote suggests that there is little appetite among lawmakers for continued short-term measures, which ups the ante as Congress and the White House continue to negotiate funding the government through September.

In a statement after Tuesday’s vote, the White House called on the Senate to pass the stopgap measure but warned against any more short-term measures.

‘The President urges the Senate to pass this bill to avoid a government shutdown that would be harmful to our economic recovery,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said. “But the President has been clear: with the wide range of issues facing our nation, we cannot keep funding the government in two or three week increments. It is time for us to come together, find common ground and resolve this issue in a sensible way. “

Carney also reiterated Democrats’ claim that they “have already met Republicans halfway” on funding cuts, a statement that has been disputed.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) said earlier Tuesday that the “growing sentiment” among Democrats is that further short-term bills are unacceptable, and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said on the House floor that “this ought to be the last of this type; we need to reach agreement.”

Many of the conservatives who voted against the stopgap said they did so because they believe it’s irresponsible to continue funding the government in two- or three-week stints.

“I think that we have a bigger problem with spending in Washington, D.C., and we’re not confronting it,” said Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.), an outspoken conservative member of the freshman class who supported the previous short-term measure earlier this month but voted against the latest stopgap.

“You can’t run a corporation, a company or business every two weeks or every three weeks, so why would we think that we could run a government like that? ... We’re beginning to look somewhat like incompetent idiots to the American people up here,” he added.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) was among the Republicans supporting the stopgap bill, noting that he was prepared to give the Senate “a little extra time” if the upper chamber needed it.

“Trying to get the Senate to move -- that’s the slowest body in the world,” Gosar said. “I mean, boy, they couldn’t operate a business in the real business world.”

Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) also voted for the bill, saying that “if you’re going to get on the playing field, you follow your captains.” He added that there was a “vigorous debate” in House Republicans’ closed-door caucus meeting Tuesday morning on the funding measure and cautioned that while the current debate was difficult, the tougher battle lies ahead.

“If people think this is a tough vote today, they ain’t seen nothing yet,” he said.

Tuesday’s vote came as the new Republican chairman of the congressional Joint Economic Committee issued a lengthy report arguing that cutting government spending will improve the economy, not destroy jobs as Democrats and several independent economic forecasters have said. The report, released by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Tex.), is based on academic studies of other countries showing that deficit-reduction plans that rely primarily on spending cuts lead to more robust economic growth than plans that rely heavily on new taxes.

However, the report acknowledges that the effect on short-term job creation is unclear. Meanwhile, it cites a reduction in “the number and compensation of government workers” as being more “pro-growth” than other kinds of spending cuts, because “a smaller government workforce increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs” -- leading, in other words, to lower wages.

Staff writer Lori Montgomery also contributed to this story.

By  |  04:20 PM ET, 03/15/2011

 
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