A partisan dispute over disaster relief funds escalated Wednesday as Democratic leaders in the House urged rank-and-file members to oppose a resolution to keep the government funded beyond Sept. 30, arguing that a provision in the House Republican bill offsetting additional disaster funding with cuts elsewhere in the budget would impact job-creation.
The move by Democrats puts pressure on the House’s GOP majority to secure the votes for the measure’s passage from the Republican side of the aisle. The House is expected to vote on the resolution Wednesday afternoon.
In a memo to House Democrats Wednesday morning, the office of House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the $1.5 billion cut to the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program “a dangerous cut that will affect American jobs and another example of the Republicans inability to compromise, and the continuation of their no jobs agenda.”
“The money in this program is responsible for thousands of American jobs and helps automakers and auto parts suppliers build next generation vehicles that will comply with increased mileage and emissions standards, and ensure that the domestic auto manufacturers have the capacity to make these technologies in America rather than import them from China and other countries,” reads the memo.
Hoyer predicted at a news conference Wednesday morning that the majority of Democrats would oppose the resolution.
Among the Democrats planning to vote against the measure is Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee. Dicks said last week in a statement that he planned to back the resolution even though he disagreed with the cut to the ATVM program; an aide to Dicks confirmed Wednesday morning that the Washington Democrat now plans to vote “no” on the measure.
Other top Democrats, including Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, are also planning to oppose the bill.
Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) as well as 102 other House Democrats sent a letter Monday to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) urging against the $1.5 billion cut to the ATVM program.
Making the task of House Republican leaders more difficult is a letter sent by 50 House conservatives late last week to Boehner pushing for deeper cuts in the stopgap funding bill.
Even so, many members – particularly those from districts hard hit by the recent string of disasters across the country – will face pressure to vote “yes” on the measure Wednesday afternoon, as a move to oppose the measure could be interpreted as a vote against the much-needed disaster relief funds for those districts.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) said that he strongly disagrees with the GOP’s move to offset part of the disaster relief money but that he will vote for the resolution anyway to speed delivery of funds to residents of his state, which was battered by Hurricane Irene.
“This is yet another spectacle of Washington fighting getting in the way of doing the common-sense thing,” he said. But, he added, “I’ll vote for whatever bill will get as much money back to my people as quickly as possible.”
If the measure does pass the House, the funding battle looks only to continue: In the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has vowed to amend the House bill to include additional disaster relief funds. That would mean the House would have to approve the Senate-passed measure — something that House GOP leaders have already said is unlikely — or else the two chambers would need to come to a compromise if a government shutdown Sept. 30 is to be averted.
At a news conference after a closed-door meeting of House Republicans on Wednesday morning, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) renewed his criticism of Reid’s move on the funding bill, accusing the Nevada Democrat of “playing politics.”
“If Harry Reid wants to play politics, he can go ahead,” Cantor said. “As I said earlier, we’re about doing the business of the people. We’re about making sure that we are prudent shepherds of taxpayer dollars but getting the disaster relief monies out. It is only Harry Reid that is talking about a threat of a shutdown.”
Staff writer Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.
This post has been updated since it was first published.