House Rejects Spending Bill, Government Shutdown Looms

The U.S. House of Representatives rejected a bill to fund the government through November 18 on Wednesday, without which the government’s spending authority will stop at the end of September. Democrats rejected the bill because it required cuts in programs in order to pay for aid to victims of Hurricane Irene and other disasters, while Republicans rejected the bill because they considered its level of aid spending to be too high.

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Lawmakers have little time to resolve the impasse, as they are expected to recess Friday for the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana next week. Democratic Senator and Majority Leader Harry Reid has said that the GOP-led House is essentially “threatening to shut down the government to get what they want.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Republican and House Speaker John Boehner, said “We continue to work on a responsible plan that can pass the House.” Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said that the rejection of the Republican approach left the GOP leaders with few options. “Now it’s time to pass the Senate disaster aid bill,” she said in a Twitter post.

While disaster relief tends to draw bipartisan support, this year Republican leaders insisted that any emergency spending by offset by cuts elsewhere. After a year rife with natural disasters, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is running low on funds, and could run out as soon as Monday. FEMA has already put longer-term building projects on hold while focusing its few remaining resources on providing food and water to disaster victims and removing debris.

Republicans wanted to fund FEMA with moneys from a program for alternative-energy vehicle manufacturing, but Democrats opposed funding cuts for the program because they said it had the potential to create green jobs. “It’s with great sadness that we even have to have a debate about it,” said Pelosi.

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Boehner urged his fellow Republicans to pass the bill, saying that failure to do so would only make it more difficult to achieve the level of spending Republicans wanted. Only an hour before the vote, GOP leadership did not know whether or not the bill would pass. Democratic leadership urged its rank-and-file members to vote against the bill — only six Democrats voted for the measure, which failed, 195 to 230.