New York Times
By Ashley Parker and Robert Pear
December 11, 2014
The House narrowly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package on Thursday that would fund most government operations for the fiscal year after a rancorous debate that reflected the new power held by Republicans and the disarray among Democrats in the aftermath of the midterm elections.
The accord was reached just hours before the midnight deadline, in a 219-206 vote, amid the last-minute brinkmanship and bickering that has come to mark one of Congress’s most polarized — and least productive — eras. The legislation now heads to the Senate, which is expected to pass it in the coming days.
The split in the Democratic Party dramatically burst into view when Representative Nancy Pelosi, the minority leader and one of President Obama’s most loyal supporters, broke with the administration over a provision in the bill that would roll back regulation of the Dodd-Frank Act, which Ms. Pelosi said was a giveaway to big banks whose practices helped fuel the Great Recession. She spoke on the House floor in the early afternoon, expressing her strong opposition to the bill.
Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. were pressed to make a furious round of phone calls to try to persuade wavering Democrats, while House Speaker John A. Boehner worked to get more Republican votes.
The public support of the sweeping spending bill by the White House — which came just as Ms. Pelosi was making her speech on the House floor opposing it — was a rare public break with the minority leader and infuriated many of her loyalists.
In a more than three-hour, closed-door meeting of House Democrats on Thursday night, many of the party’s more liberal members tried to rally support against the bill. The moment, they said, was one of conscience, and a chance for Democrats to demonstrate their allegiance with the middle class.
“We’ve got to stand up for principle at some point, or they’re going to kick us even more next year when they have a bigger majority,” said Representative Peter A. DeFazio, Democrat of Oregon. “They know we will stand our ground on principle in the future and not roll us so easily again.”
In an emergency gathering, Democrats also expressed anger at Denis R. McDonough, the White House chief of staff, at what they saw as the president’s undercutting of Ms. Pelosi and other progressives by coming out in support of the deal so early in the day. But Ms. Pelosi ultimately gave her members the freedom to vote how they wanted. “I’m giving you the leverage to do what you have to do,” she said. “We have enough votes to show them never to do this again.”
The final vote was a blow to Ms. Pelosi, the liberal wing of the party and Senator Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who led the charge against the Dodd-Frank rollback. Mr. Boehner built a coalition of 162 Republicans and 57 Democrats, a rare achievement for a Congress that has often operated along strict party lines. Congress also passed a two-day funding measure to give the Senate time to pass the legislation.
With an opportunity to return to a more conventional legislative process — funding the government for a fiscal year rather than for months at a time — Republican leaders had thought they had sufficient bipartisan support to pass the bill. The adopted measure funds the government through Sept. 30, 2015.
But an early sign of the headwinds facing the legislation came around noon, when the deal barely cleared a procedural hurdle to allow a vote. In several tense minutes on the House floor, support to move forward on the package seesawed, with Democrats shouting “Call the vote” and Republicans holding it open until they were able to persuade two lawmakers to switch their votes.
House Democrats — who were already trying to strike a delicate balance — found their calculation complicated by the White House, which released a pre-emptive signal that Mr. Obama would sign the bipartisan legislation if it made it out of Congress.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the administration agreed with congressional Democrats who were angry about several provisions that affect financial regulations and others that would allow larger political contributions to parties during federal campaigns. But he called the funding bill “a compromise” and said passage of the legislation would be good for the economy and would bolster some of the president’s priorities, including consumer protection, early childhood education and the fight against climate change.
Postponing action on the spending bill until next year would not have been good for either party. Republicans were eager to get the package behind them so they could start 2015 with a fresh agenda. And although Democrats found some provisions of the spending bill objectionable — including a measure that would significantly increase the limits on individual contributions to political parties — the package was negotiated on a bipartisan basis and they probably would have been forced into greater concessions next year.
Not everyone on the right was happy with the deal, either. Some House Republicans thought that Mr. Boehner did not go far enough in fighting Mr. Obama over his executive action last month to defer the deportation of as many as five million unauthorized immigrants. The spending deal funds the Department of Homeland Security — the agency primarily assigned to carry out the president’s immigration policy — only through February, at which point Republicans will control both chambers of Congress and have the leverage to try to curtail Mr. Obama’s action.
But some conservatives wanted to immediately defund the Homeland Security agency, despite the risk of a partial government shutdown. After the bill was passed, Representative Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana and majority whip, said that the vote “set the stage for a battle with the president” over his immigration action.
The liberal base of the Democratic Party, led by Ms. Warren, also found itself in an unlikely alliance with the Tea Party wing of the Republican Party. Both opposed the Wall Street bailout of 2008 and feared that the spending measure would not only provide a bounty for big banks but would also help cause another economic crisis. But last year, 70 House Democrats voted for a bill that included the very change to the Dodd-Frank regulations that their leadership opposed this week.
For Mr. Boehner and Ms. Pelosi, the lead-up to Thursday’s vote also demonstrated the strengths and limitations of their conferences.
Mr. Boehner displayed a willingness to buck his party’s more conservative members — as well as vocal outside groups — by passing the bill with the help of Democratic votes.
And Ms. Pelosi and her leadership team again reminded voters that House Republicans have often found themselves forced to rely on Democratic votes to pass crucial legislation, from the deal to reopen the government last year after a 16-day shutdown to relief for Hurricane Sandy.
“This bill is a one-two punch at middle-class voters,” said Representative Steve Israel of New York, a member of the Democratic leadership. “It weakens financial regulation on big banks and rewards Congress for doing so by increasing donation limits of big donors. This is exactly why middle-class voters have a contempt of Congress.”
Representative Nita M. Lowey of New York, the senior Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, supported much of the bill but criticized the increase in limits on contributions to political parties. She linked that provision to efforts by the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and Mr. Boehner.
“The Reid-Boehner provision to increase by tenfold the limits on contributions to political parties is excessive and also does not belong on this bill,” Ms. Lowey said on the House floor.
But Representative Tom Cole, Republican of Oklahoma, said the campaign finance change had been negotiated with Senate Democrats.
“Democrats in the Senate consented to it and, I suspect, participated in it,” Mr. Cole said.
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