House G.O.P. Hopes to Regroup on Spending BillBy ROBERT PEAR
New York Times
September 23, 2011
WASHINGTON — House Republican leaders struggled Thursday to revise a stopgap spending bill that they hoped to push through in an urgent bid to keep the government in operation and help their party recover from a humiliating political defeat.
Speaker John A. Boehner solicited the views of his colleagues at a closed meeting of the House Republican Conference, where lawmakers expressed frustration at the setback they suffered Wednesday on the bill to provide $3.65 billion in disaster relief for victims of floods, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes.
Even if the House approves the bill, to finance government operations for seven weeks after the start of the fiscal year on Oct. 1, it faces potential problems in the Senate, where Democrats want to spend more, without cutting other programs to offset the cost.
“Some reports out of the House are really troubling,” the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, said Thursday as he waited to see what the House would do.
The maneuvering came as members of both parties and both houses of Congress tried to wrap up work so they could leave town for a recess scheduled for next week.
House Republicans said their leaders were considering several options. They could try to pass the same bill rejected on Wednesday, with tiny changes. They could revise the bill to eliminate cuts in an automobile fuel-efficiency program used to offset some of the cost of disaster assistance. Or they could find other ways to offset some of the cost.
Representative Fred Upton, Republican of Michigan and chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, suggested cutting the program that guaranteed loans for Solyndra, the solar equipment manufacturer that declared bankruptcy several weeks ago.
Mr. Boehner told members of his caucus that the bill defeated Wednesday was the best deal they were going to get. Some of the 48 Republicans who opposed it Wednesday said they would support it, with minor changes, on Thursday.
Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon, who voted for the original bill, said: “If you are a conservative, it just gets worse from here. The Senate wants to spend a lot more.”
If the House made deeper cuts, Republican leaders said, the Senate would promptly send the bill back with much higher spending.
The Senate last week approved a bill that includes $6.9 billion of disaster assistance, nearly twice as much as the $3.65 billion in the House bill.
Representative David Dreier, Republican of California, said the new bill would be “very similar” to the one rejected Wednesday by a vote of 230 to 195.
Representative Louie Gohmert, Republican of Texas, sounded skeptical of arguments by party leaders and said he had to stay true to his constituents.
“We promised that we would make serious cuts,” Mr. Gohmert said as he left the party caucus on Thursday. “We have not made serious cuts. I have to see serious cuts so I can keep my commitment to the people who elected me.”
Representative Peter T. King, Republican of New York, said it was imperative for the House to act swiftly, to address the pressing needs of disaster victims and to minimize the political risks to Republicans.
“Delay puts this on the Democrats’ playing field,” Mr. King said. “If there is a threat of a government shutdown or if there is a threat of people not getting disaster assistance, we are on the defense.”
Representative Jo Ann Emerson, Republican of Missouri, said, “Disaster assistance is absolutely critical for my district,” which suffered extensive flood damage this year. Ms. Emerson said she did not understand why Republicans had voted against what she described as a “perfectly reasonable” bill on Wednesday.
Mr. Boehner defended his decision to let the House vote Wednesday.
“I’ve always believed in allowing the House to work its will,” he said Thursday. “I understood what the risk was yesterday. But why not put the bill on the floor and let the members speak? And they did.”
The fight over the stopgap spending bill came as a powerful House-Senate committee weighed options for sweeping changes in individual and corporate taxes.
Committee members from both parties said they wanted to lower business tax rates and eliminate or curtail some of the tax deductions and other tax breaks used by corporations.
“We don’t collect as much revenue as we should, due in part to the complex, inefficient and loophole-ridden tax code we’ve got,” said Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio. “Most economists agree that fundamental corporate tax reform is going to produce more economic growth and therefore, as a consequence, more revenues.”
Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said, “I think we should lower our corporate rates very significantly.” But he said such changes would cause “big dislocations,” as “some industries would be hurt a lot” while others would benefit.
Senator Patty Murray, Democrat of Washington and co-chairwoman of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, said, “I think we all agree that our corporate tax code needs substantial reform.”
But she said that “it’s important to coordinate reforms for individual and corporate taxes” because many businesses operate as “pass-through entities” and their income shows up on individual income tax returns.