House Republicans Regroup After Vote Blocks Spending Bill

Washington— House Republicans struggled on Thursday morning to find a way to pass legislation to fund the government through mid-November and provide assistance to natural disaster victims, following an embarrassing defeat of a bill that would have offset disaster relief with cuts in other programs.

The House took emergency steps to clear the way for a quick vote on a new measure. It was unclear whether House leaders would attempt to win over more Republicans, many of whom want even more short-term cuts in spending than those agreed to last summer as part of a deal to lift the debt ceiling, or more Democrats, who want even higher levels of disaster aid without the spending cuts to pay for it.

With Congress scheduled to be in recess next week and financing for the entire federal government due to expire Sept. 30, the leadership was searching for a way to push a bill to the president’s desk even as Senate Democrats made clear that they did not intend to pass a bill without including more money for the Federal Emergency Management Agency than proposed by the House.

Though the solution to the legislative impasse remained unclear, Speaker John A. Boehner said Thursday that he did not believe that the government would be shuttered over the dispute.

At a news conference, Mr. Boehner said there was “no threat of government shutdown,” and blamed Democrats for “playing politics” in joining 48 Republicans in voting down the Republican leadership bill Wednesday. He said House Republicans would meet later in the day to consider options and cobble together a new bill.

“Welcome to my world,” said Mr. Boehner, who has faced difficulty navigating between conservative House Republicans and Congressional Democrats multiple times this year.

Mr. Boehner said the fight could extend into the weekend. Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, said he was not certain what the outcome would be.

“We don’t know what they’re going to do over there today,” Mr. Reid said of the House. “There are all kinds of rumors floating around.”

Senate Democrats, who passed their own bill to increase financing for the Federal Emergency Management Agency last week — saw the House setback as potentially giving them a rare upper hand over House Republicans who failed to anticipate the failure of their own bill, leaving the government once again at the precipice of a shutdown.

Senator Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat said the tangled situation meant that “we are now watching the Tea Party shutdown movie for the third time this year.”

“The ending isn’t surprising,” Mr. Durbin said on MSNBC. “It isn’t even interesting anymore. They can’t get together the basic Republican votes on the House side to even pass the continuing resolution they agreed to just a few weeks ago, let alone some disaster aid for a country that’s been hard-hit by a lot of disasters.”

The unexpected outcome illustrated how the intense fiscal fights of recent months had transformed the politics of disaster relief, which in the past has typically been rushed out of Congress with strong backing from both parties. Democrats remained nearly united against the measure because they saw the amount of disaster assistance — $3.65 billion — as inadequate, and they objected to the Republicans’ insistence on offsetting some of the cost with cuts elsewhere.

The result could give new power to Senate Democrats to shape the legislation, which would finance government operations from the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1 until Nov. 18. The Senate last week passed — with support from 10 Republicans — a bill that would provide nearly twice as much money as the House for assistance to victims of floods, hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes.

What was also clear is that a mild charm offensive, led for two weeks by House Republican leaders eager to tamp down rancor on Capitol Hill, was no match for the deep philosophical differences between the parties.

With so many conservatives balking at the House bill, Republican leaders said they needed support from Democrats to pass it. But few Democrats were willing to assist the Republican leadership after this summer’s standoff over raising the federal debt limit.

The rejection of the Republican House leadership’s bill by a vote of 230 to 195 on Wednesday came after fiscally conservative Republicans joined an overwhelming majority of Democrats in opposing it.

Democrats objected to the provision that would finance disaster aid by taking money from a loan program that encourages production of energy-efficient cars. Democrats said this program had helped create 40,000 jobs and could yield many more. Republicans have been on a campaign against government programs to create “green” jobs, a centerpiece of the Obama administration’s policies.

Having failed to pass any of the 12 regular annual spending bills, Congress needs to approve some type of temporary legislation to continue government operations beyond Oct. 1. Congress is considering whether to pass a giant omnibus spending bill to finance federal agencies for the remainder of the fiscal year after Nov. 18.

Both parties said they were determined to avoid a government shutdown on Oct. 1. But it is unclear how they will resolve their differences.

Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Senate Democrat, said after the vote that House Republicans should take up and pass the Senate’s disaster relief bill, providing more money with no offsets. “The only thing left for them to do is to treat the disaster victims fairly,” he said.

The message from the more conservative wing of the House is that there should be more spending cuts in the bill than offered. But to cut more could violate the spending agreement with Democrats devised as part of the recent debt-ceiling agreement, and the Senate would be unlikely to vote for a new bill with more cuts, setting the stage for an impasse.

If House Republican leaders try to pick up Republican votes with deeper cuts in spending, Mr. Schumer said, “it will not get anywhere, and they will risk shutting the government down.”

The House bill would have provided $3.65 billion for disaster assistance and would have offset $1 billion of the cost by cuts in auto technology efforts. The Senate-passed bill would provide $6.9 billion, none of it offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Senate Democratic leaders said that the House sum was wholly inadequate, and that Congress should not have to offset the costs.

This article, “House Republicans Regroup After Vote Blocks Spending Bill,” originally appeared at The New York Times.