By S.A. Miller and Stephen Dinan – The Washington Times – Thursday, December 11, 2014 Associated Press
A last-minute plea from President Obama and fatigued GOP leaders overcame rebellions from both conservatives and liberals, clearing the $1.1 trillion spending bill through the House on Thursday in a dramatic late-night vote.
Democrats huddled for more than three hours, and were visited by White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who defended the deal just hours after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had publicly trashed it, accusing Mr. Obama and the Senate Democrats who negotiated it of caving to “blackmail.”
Most Democrats stuck with Mrs. Pelosi, but GOP leaders managed to cobble together a centrist coalition that held, passing the bill on a 219-206 vote, with Democrats and Republicans believing they got something important out of the bill, even as they had to accept less than they’d wanted.
“Hold your nose and make this a better world,” Rep. Sam Farr, California Democrat, admonished colleagues just ahead of the vote.
In the end, 57 Democrats joined with 162 Republicans to pass the bill, delivering about the ratio all sides had expected earlier.
The bill now goes to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to take it up Friday. In the meantime, Congress passed a stopgap bill to keep government operations running for two more days, giving senators a chance to approve the broader bill.
But that almost didn’t happen, as Mrs. Pelosi joined a liberal rebellion against the 1,600-page spending bill.
She sided with those who objected to two provisions: a change that would allow wealthy donors to give up to 10 times more than currently allowed to the national political party committees, and new rules that would led banks trade derivatives with government-insured funds.
Mrs. Pelosi said she was disappointed in Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats who wrote the compromise with House Republicans, and accused them of holding Americans’ needs “ransom” in exchange for what she deemed special-interest provisions.
“Here we are in the House, being blackmailed — being blackmailed — to vote for an appropriations bill,” she said.
For his part, Mr. Obama was slow to defend the compromise, refusing to say Wednesday that he backed it, and only issuing a statement Thursday afternoon, just as the House was narrowly approving the rules for debate to bring the bill to the floor.
In the official administration statement of policy, the White House said it supported the legislation — but spent most of the document listing objections. It was such a tepid endorsement that Mrs. Pelosi used it on the House floor to attack the bill.
Sensing it was facing an embarrassment, the White House geared up.
Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the bill had money to fight Ebola, boosted funds for the president’s plans to combat the Islamic State and added money to fund the White House’s childhood education program.
He said the bill also included more money for the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and said Democrats were able to prevent Republicans from adding language restricting the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Those financial-regulation features were part of the compromise that allowed the changes in derivatives.
“We can’t allow a disagreement over one thing to be a deal-breaker over all the others,” Mr. Earnest said, calling the deal the first test of the type of bipartisan cooperation Mr. Obama wanted to see after his side took a drubbing in November’s elections.
For their part Republicans pointed to the bill’s cuts to the IRS and EPA, and provisions denting some of Mr. Obama’s environmental regulations.
But conservatives balked, saying they wanted the bill to halt Mr. Obama’s deportation amnesty, too.
“I find it amazingly interesting that instead of working with conservatives, Speaker Boehner called in President Obama to help get Democratic votes,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, Texas Republican. “When you’re in a crisis, you call on the people you can trust — I guess the president is who Speaker Boehner trusts.”
A GOP leadership aide denied calling in the White House to rescue the bill.
Rep. James P. Moran, a Virginia Democrat who supported the deal, said he was stunned his party almost scuttled the deal
“We got virtually everything Democrats wanted to get,” he said, adding that his party’s negotiators were able to block dozens of restrictions on Mr. Obama’s environmental policies that the GOP had wanted to insert in the bill — changes the GOP would be able to make next month when they take control of the Senate.
“If we let this bill go down it is a travesty,” he said ahead of the vote. “In three months, Democrats are going to look back and say what did we do to ourselves and to our constituents?”
Rep. Bill Pascrell, New Jersey Democrat, said he didn’t accept that Democrats will get a worse deal next time.”We’ll fight that fight at that point also,” he said. “I think it’s always a good time to fight.”
Previous shutdown showdowns involved a stand-off between House GOP leaders on the one hand and Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama on the other.
But in Thursday’s fight all three of those forces were aligned and it was House Democrats who were the chief obstacle, objecting to a bill that had been negotiated by their own party leaders at the White House and in the Senate.
Indeed, even as Mr. Obama was making phone calls in the afternoon to try to win supporters, Rep. Maxine Waters of California, the ranking Democrat on the Financial Services Committee, was making calls urging Democrats to hold firm in their opposition.
Mrs. Pelosi also seemed to add to the obstruction when she released a letter urging the liberal rebellion to hold firm, saying they believed they were the “leverage” she needed to force Senate Democrats and House Republicans to rewrite the bill.
“I’m glad President Obama is on the phone talking to Democrats. I wish Pelosi and the president would get on the same page,” said Rep. Robert Pittinger, North Carolina Republican, as the recess dragged into early evening.