Those fiscal conservatives, they just keep confounding politics in Washington.
Just a little over a month after they brought the nation to the brink of defaulting on its debt, Republican fiscal conservatives were back at it again on Wednesday, bucking their own leadership in the House by helping to defeat a spending bill that was supposed to keep the government operating through mid-November.
Just hours before the vote, House leaders were expressing confidence that the measure crafted by Speaker John Boehner—which also set aside money to pay for recent disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes—would pass the House and be sent to the Senate.
But Democrats, who had hinted they might support the measure, bolted—as did four dozen fiscal conservatives on the GOP side, who were angry that the spending limits set in the legislation were higher than the targets the GOP set for itself earlier this year.
The end result was a 230-195 vote to defeat the measure, which left House leaders scrambling for a new solution to keep the government running past Sept. 30, when current spending authority expires.
The vote prompted talk that the government might be forced to shut down, a threat that loomed over the city for most of the summer as lawmakers struggled to reach a compromise on raising the nation’s borrowing limit.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sought to downplay the risks of a shutdown, portraying Wednesday’s vote as a procedural—albeit unexpected—setback.
“In the end, we’ll do what’s right by the people who put us here. It’s just part of the process, unfortunately,” Cantor told reporters in the Capitol afterwards.
This year’s Congress—with control of its chambers divided among Democrats in the Senate and Republicans in the House—has resembled a version of the “cardiac kids” where tough decisions repeatedly go down to the wire.
The latest setback in the House is more likely to strengthen the hands of Democrats, who now may try to exploit the divide inside the GOP. But the leadership has one threat in its back pocket that in the past has proven effective: if the legislation doesn’t get done this week, the planned vacation for lawmakers next week might be canceled.
Now that’s real leverage.