The House on Tuesday night rejected three appropriations resolutions that would have funded the District of Columbia, veterans programs and national parks, after House Republicans set them up in a way that required Democratic support for passage.
GOP leadership decided earlier in the day to advance smaller spending resolutions as a way to ease the impact of the government shutdown that started today. But Democrats held out against this tactic, and most voted against the three bills in order to keep up pressure for a comprehensive spending package.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the piecemeal strategy would allow Republicans to pick and choose which parts of the government to fund, which she compared to a slow release of hostages.
“They took hostages by shutting down the government,” Pelosi said. “Now they’re releasing one hostage at a time.”
She and other Democrats said the approach was part of the ongoing GOP strategy to chip away at ObamaCare, which was at the center of the fight that led to the government shutdown.
House Democrats were backed by their Senate colleagues and the Obama administration, both of which said they would oppose a piecemeal approach.
“These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government,” White House spokeswoman Amy Brundage said.
A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) responded by pointing out that President Obama already signed legislation last night to ensure funding for troops.
“How does the White House justify signing the troop funding bill, but vetoing similar measures for veterans, National Parks, and District of Columbia?” Michael Steel said. “The White House position is unsustainably hypocritical.”
Nonetheless, the failed House votes will once again require Republican leaders to figure out the next step. One option is bringing them up under a regular order later in the week, which would allow them to easily pass in a simple majority vote.
Today, Republicans brought up the resolutions under a suspension of House rules, which required a two-thirds majority vote. While that led to the failed votes, it will let Republicans argue that House Democrats are the ones in the way of funding these specific priorities.
The closest vote for Democrats was on a resolution to fund the District of Columbia — that proposal drew support from 34 Democrats, although it still fell short of a two-thirds majority and failed in a 265-163 vote.
Washington DC is in the unique position of needing congressional approval for its budget, even though the money it spends is raised within the District. That reality, and a plea from Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), seemed to prompt some Democrats to vote for it.
Norton herself said she was torn on the vote, because while she had to support the DC funding bill, she realized other Democrats were opposing the GOP’s plan to pass piecemeal resolutions.
“It puts me in an impossible position,” she said. “I have a greater number of federal employees than any part of this region, and of course because I must support this piecemeal approach, I’m leaving them behind. But what am I to do?”
“I am asking, keep the district open. Don’t dare compare us to your appropriations,” she pleaded.
The House also turned away a resolution to fund the Department of Veterans Affairs, in a 264-164 vote that won 33 Democrats. Here again, Republicans questioned how Democrats could vote against legislation they would normally support.
“I’m shocked to hear our friends on the other side of the aisle who are unwilling to help our veterans receive the benefits that they have earned,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).
As they did with other bills, Democrats insisted that they support the goals of the bill, but not the tactics.
“Of course we support funding for our veterans. The proper way to do that… is to fulfill our constitutional responsibility, make the hard decisions, pass regular appropriations bills.”
A third resolution would have funded the national parks, the Smithsonian museums, and the Holocaust Museum. This proposal failed 252-176 and won 22 Democratic votes.
That vote came after Republicans charged that the Obama administration put up fencing around certain monuments in response to the shutdown, even though they are normally left unguarded.
“It appears to me the Obama administration is choosing to make this shutdown as painful as possible by unnecessarily preventing public access to open-air spaces and monuments,” said Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).
Hastings said several World War II veterans tried to visit various monuments today but were blocked by Park Police. “The Obama administration is going out of the way to erect barricades that have people manning them in order to keep people out of these monuments,” he said.