WASHINGTON -- Efforts to pass a $1.1 trillion spending bill and avoid a government shutdown came to a halt Thursday afternoon when the House unexpectedly recessed. Stopping debate on the bill minutes before the vote was scheduled is likely a sign that leadership discovered there weren’t enough votes, particularly from Democrats, to secure passage.
"Leadership teams are still talking to their respective members,” said Mike Long, spokesman for Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. “A vote is still planned for this afternoon."
When that vote could come is still undetermined. It could be an hour. It could be five hours. Congress is pushing up against the midnight deadline to fund the government or see another shutdown on Friday.
Fears of a shutdown had been calmed recently by what seemed to be bipartisan progress on the spending bill. But in the 40 minutes after news emerged of the sudden recess, the Dow fell more than 70 points -- perhaps a sign of renewed concern about the economic repercussions of a possible government shutdown.
Republican leadership had been confident that it had sufficient votes to ensure passage. “Today, I expect the House will pass a responsible bill to keep the government running,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on Thursday morning.
But conservatives are unhappy that the bill doesn’t go far enough to fight the president on immigration. The loss of those Republican votes meant Democrats are needed for the bill to pass.
And the Democrats may be the ones holding up the legislation. Congressional Democrats are unhappy that the bill includes provisions to roll back regulations on Wall Street from the Dodd-Frank law. They are also angry about changes to public pension rules and increases in the allowed campaign finance donations to political parties.
In what appeared to be an effort to get Democrats on board, the White House issued a statement on Thursday afternoon urging passage. While acknowledging the Dodd-Frank changes, the statement called on Congress to quickly approve the measure and said President Barack Obama would sign the bill, Dodd-Frank rollbacks and all.
But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi took to the House floor to announce her opposition and encourage fellow Democrats to join her. She also took a jab at the White House, saying that no one who supports Dodd-Frank should support the legislation.
"This is ransom, this is blackmail," Pelosi said on the floor. "We don't get a bill unless Wall Street gets its taxpayer funded coverage."
She also rallied her troops with an email.
Dear Democratic Colleague,
It is clear from this recess on the floor that the Republicans don’t have enough votes to pass the CRomnibus. This increases our leverage to get two offensive provisions of the bill removed: the bank bailout and big money for campaigns provision.
However you decide to vote in the end, I thank those who continue to give us leverage to improve the bill.
Within an hour of Boehner’s confident promise of passage, problems had started to show. The House took a procedural vote on the measure, approving what’s known as the rule that allows the vote on the actual bill to go forward.
It was one of the most dramatic rule votes in recent memory, as it quickly became clear that nearly all the House Democrats were opposing the rule. And enough conservative Republicans were voting against it to show that the bill would fail.
Republican leadership moved around the House floor, speaking to members who had either not voted yet or even voted no. For more than 10 minutes, the vote total was against the rule. Ultimately, a handful of Republicans switched their votes. Rep. Kerry Bentivolio, R-Mich., who lost his bid for re-election, ultimately switched his vote and gave Republicans the numbers that were needed.
After the rules vote, Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the difficult effort to pass the rule shows problems for the Republicans.
“They’re going to be working very hard in the next hour or so trying to whip their people,” Cummings said. “Right now there are not enough vote to pass the omnibus bill…. Anything can happen in the next hour or two. There is going to be a lot of arm twisting.”