In a dramatic, down-to-the-wire vote, the GOP-led House narrowly approved a $1.1-trillion spending bill Thursday just hours before the government’s spending authority was due to expire.
The measure – aided by a last-minute push from President Obama – passed 219 to 206 despite liberal Democrats’ objections to provisions that increase campaign contribution limits to political parties and relax 2010 banking regulations designed to protect taxpayers from risky derivatives.
The massive bill, which funds most of the government until September, next goes to the Senate, which is expected to consider the measure this weekend.
Because the cutoff to renew government spending was midnight Thursday, the House also approved a stopgap funding measure to extend the deadline for a few days so the Senate would have time to act.
The Senate also approved a two-day emergency bill late Thursday to extend the deadline.
The bill’s prospects had appeared in doubt as late as Thursday night. House Speaker John A. Boehner proved unable to gather enough votes from his own majority, many of whom sought deeper cuts to government spending and wanted to use the budget process to curb Obama's polices on immigration and healthcare.
Boehner hoped Democrats would help him make up the shortfall, but liberals fumed at the provisions on campaign finance and derivatives, demanding they be removed from the bill.
In an odd alliance with Boehner, Obama personally called House Democrats to rally support.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the measure included substantial funding for the fight against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria and aid to help eradicate Ebola. It also includes nothing that would significantly impede the administration’s progress in implementing the Affordable Care Act or changing the immigration system.
The White House intervention set up an uncomfortable split with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), who was leading the Democratic opposition along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a liberal favorite and potential 2016 presidential hopeful.
They warned that softening the 2010 Dodd-Frank law would leave Americans vulnerable to the same kind of risky banking practices that led to the 2008 Great Recession and financial industry bailout.
Earnest acknowledged the division between the administration and Pelosi, whom the president has previously credited with helping to pass some of the “most important achievements” of his time in office, including the 2010 Affordable Healthcare Act. “We have a difference of opinion here,” Earnest said.
What Boehner had expected to be quick passage of the bill before the holiday break turned into a game of chicken Thursday afternoon as the chamber recessed for hours and lawmakers huddled in backroom talks.
By early evening, White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough rushed to the Capitol to meet with House Democrats. He told them the White House had also felt blindsided by the provisions and had asked Senate Democrats to help remove them from the bill.
“We learned about these provisions when you did, and we pushed the Senate to take them out,” McDonough told House Democrats, according to a person inside the meeting who did not want to be identified discussing the private session.
At first, lawmakers hunkered down for a long night. But mindful of the unpopular 16-day shutdown last year, neither side appeared willing to allow the standoff to close the government again. A vote was called shortly after 9 p.m. EST.
It was unclear how much the White House influenced congressional Democrats, who have long complained that Obama has done little to keep up relationships with his natural allies.
Fifty-seven Democrats voted in favor the bill and 139 opposed. On the Republican side, 162 voted in favor and 67 against.
Some Democrats calculated that the spending bill, although imperfect, was better than what they could get after Republicans take full control of Congress in January.
“What part of ‘we’re going to have a Republican majority in the Senate’ do you not get?” said Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-Va.). “We don’t live in a perfect world. This is a balancing act.”
The 1,600-page spending bill will fund most the government until the end of the fiscal year in September. In a nod to GOP conservatives, Boehner proposed that funding for the Homeland Security Department, which oversees immigration agencies, be renewed only until February. The move was portrayed as a protest against Obama's executive action to defer deportation for up to 5 million immigrants in the country illegally.
Also Thursday, the Senate advanced a must-pass defense authorization bill, which includes a massive public-lands package that has angered some environmentalists. Democrats and Republicans agreed 85 to 14 to move the bill forward, with final passage expected Friday.