This post has been updated since it was first published.
With the clock ticking toward a deadline at the end of the week, House Republican leaders on Tuesday maintained that a stopgap government funding bill will not be able to pass the House if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) moves to amend it, setting the stage for a showdown that could once again see Washington near a federal shutdown.
Reid, meanwhile, declined Tuesday afternoon to rule out the possibility of a shutdown, arguing that the “tea party-driven House of Representatives has been so unreasonable in the past.”
At a Capitol briefing with reporters, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that if Reid is successful in rounding up the votes for a government funding bill that includes billions of dollars in additional disaster relief funding, the House is poised to reject the measure.
“Listen, from understanding the floor and the votes, if Reid does what he does, I don’t see the votes on the floor for it,” said McCarthy, his party’s chief vote-counter in the House. “So, he’s holding up the ability for individuals to get the relief. They have it in the (funding bill); it’ll pass out of here and go to the Senate. If Reid wants to play politics with it, I think that’s wrong, and I think it’s shame on him.”
At issue is a measure to keep the government funded past the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30. Reid said Tuesday morning that if the House sends over a funding bill that includes a $1.5 billion offset for the additional Federal Emergency Management Agency monies, the Senate will amend the measure to include additional funding, sending the resolution back to the House.
But House Republican leaders already face a tall task in securing the votes necessary to pass the measure even without the additional monies, as more than 50 conservatives penned a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) late last week calling for even deeper cuts. If the House were to take up a Senate-passed bill containing the additional funds, it’s possible that House Democratic leaders could wrangle support from their rank-and-file members in order to pass the measure.
“The House bill has in it the disaster relief that the president requested, and then some,” Cantor contended Tuesday. “As you know, we provide for a billion dollars in emergency relief. And starting the new fiscal year Oct. 1, we also provide an additional $2.6 billion that will be available for delivering on the needs that the people are asking for us to address. So you’ve got $3.6 billion combined there in the bill. The (bill) is going to be written at the level that we agreed at in terms of the debt-ceiling agreement.”
As reporters peppered the leaders with questions about the possibility of yet another partisan row that would bring the government to the verge of a shutdown, Cantor and McCarthy dismissed suggestions that the funding bill would fail to make it through both chambers.
“No one’s intending to bring about a government shutdown here,” Cantor said. “I think the country’s sort of seen enough of that. The two sides have demonstrated a real difference as far as cutting spending is concerned. We’re going to try to focus on where we can come together, pass the (measure) and continue to focus on the job creation that is so desperately needed.”
Even so, Cantor argued that if the funding battle were to be brought to the brink, “it’ll be on Leader Reid’s shoulders, because he’s the one playing politics with it.”
“No one wants to stand in the way of disaster relief monies that we need,” he said. “Nothing else but politics going on with that move.”
Cantor also took aim at House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), who earlier Tuesday said that House Democrats would not back the bill if it included the disaster relief offset.
“Steny said in his colloquy with me last week that he would support the bill, so, clearly, there is a game of politics being played here,” Cantor said. “The House is going to act. We’re going to deliver the money to the victims of the disasters — and as all of you know, my district was particularly affected, especially by the earthquake and then the high winds associated with the hurricane. And there’s no question that the money will be delivered. This is all about a political game for Harry Reid. I know Steny Hoyer understands that; Steny Hoyer also understands that we need to move on disaster relief and do so responsibly.”
In his exchange with Cantor last Thursday on the House floor, however, Hoyer raised the issue of the funding resolution but did not explicitly say that he would vote in favor of it: he criticized the move by House Republicans to offset the disaster relief funding with cuts to the advanced vehicle technology program as “undermining a specific item in the current scheme of things that is in fact creating jobs.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed the idea that there would be a shutdown.
“There won’t be a government shutdown,” McConnell told reporters after Senate Republicans’ luncheon. “Congress always responds appropriately to disasters. We’re having a discussion about the appropriate way to do that, and I’m confident it’ll be resolved.”
But Reid said shortly after that he wasn’t so sure.
“I’m not as certain as McConnell, because we’re not going to cave in on this, because it’s a matter of principle,” Reid said. “Not only do they give us inadequate funding, but to rub salt in the wound, they take a program that creates jobs to pay for the first year.”
This post has been updated since it was first published.