How Cuts-for-Aid Killed the CR (for Now)

The House of Representatives just voted down the GOP’s version of a continuing resolution to fund the government through November – a 230-195 thwacking, with 48 Republicans and almost all Democrats voting against the majority’s bill. How? Why? This CR, which included $1 billion of FEMA funding, also included $1.5 billion of cuts to an efficient vehicle program that Democrats supported.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t I read, three weeks ago or so, that Republicans weren’t going to risk sinking the FEMA funding by attaching things to the vote.”

You almost read that. When Majority Leader Eric Cantor was asked if FEMA funds would be tied to cuts, he implied that they would be, then rejected the notion that he would hold anything “hostage” when relief was on the line. After all, his district was among the places that would need relief. I had this exchange with his spokesman at the time.

“The House passed, and Leader Cantor supported, the DHS appropriations bill, which includes additional money to replenish the FEMA disaster fund (which is now low),” explains Brad Dayspring, Cantor’s spokesman. “That funding was offset. The Senate has thus far failed to act on that legislation. There has been no additional request made for emergency dollars. If emergency funding is requested, surely the House will respond appropriately at that time. In the interim, we can’t respond to an emergency request that doesn’t yet exist.  There would be no delay is people getting federal relief.”

“How much would the request be for?” says Dayspring. “What do the Govs say is needed? I can tell you that obviously no one would stand in the way of urgently needed funding, that’s just silly.”

And ThinkProgress, which was skeptical where I was overly credulous, has some video of Cantor rejecting this “hostage” idea.

The immediate request turned out to be $500 million. Instead of setting up a vote on this, the GOP put a package together. There would be $1 billion of FEMA funds, twice what was requested. There would be $2.6 billion for a disaster fund that had been set up by the debt deal. And, oh, there would be “pay-fors” in the form of cuts to that efficiency program, which Democrats wanted.

At his briefing with reporters yesterday, Cantor repeatedly explained that the GOP was offering a fair deal, and Democrats – who had voted on a “clean” funding bill in the Senate – were “playing politics.”

“You know,” said Cantor, “Steny [Hoyer] said in his colloquy with me last week that he was going to support the bill. Clearly, there is a game of politics being played here. The House is going to act. We are going to deliver the money to the victims of the disasters. All of you know my district was particularly affected, first by the earthquake, and then by the high winds associated with Irene. There is 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.”

I asked Cantor if this plan represented a change from three weeks ago – some people were under the impression that the vote would not be tied to anything.

“I think the discussion back then would probably prompt my same response,” he said. “Let’s not conflate the two issues here. There is an issue of emergency funding, which is the context for the pay for discussion, and there is that which we budget for. The emergency funding is offset, and we did so responsibly. The budgeted for amounts is for the fiscal year 2012 number, front loaded so the agency can access monies if it needs it.”

Democrats didn’t buy this. A rump of Republicans didn’t want the bill at all. So the CR went down.