The $1.1 trillion deal negotiated by House Republican and Senate Democratic leaders barely survived a rebellion from the right and left alike on Thursday. Now it’s on to the Senate, where the bill is expected to pass but still faces threats from its critics.
The House passed the spending bill by a narrow margin late Thursday, just hours before government funding was set to expire, after a frenzied day of lobbying by Speaker John Boehner and the White House. Sixty-seven Republicans and 139 Democrats ended up voting against the final bill in the House, which passed 219-206.
Congress passed a stopgap measure to keep the government funded through Saturday night, and the House has since extended that resolution through Wednesday night, giving the Senate more time to consider the larger spending package.
If all members agree to skip procedural votes, the Senate could vote on the spending bill as early as Friday, though objections could delay the vote. The question now is whether any of the bill’s vocal critics decide to filibuster the legislation, which would slow its movement and raise the threshold to advance it to a final vote to 60 votes instead of a simple majority. The House, anticipating its passage, has already left town.
In a speech on the Senate floor, Majority Leader Harry Reid urged members to pass the larger spending deal as quickly as possible.
“This bill is, I repeat, far from perfect,” Reid said Thursday night, after the bill’s passage. “But when we pass it, we’ll be able to end this congress knowing we put our country on a more secure financial footing than when this congress started.”
President Obama pushed the same message on Friday. ”Had I been able to draft my own legislation, get it passed without any Republican votes, I suspect it would be slightly different. That is not the circumstance we find ourselves in and I think what the American people very much are looking for is responsible governance and the willingness to compromise, and that’s what we’ve clearly done,” Obama said, highlighting the bill’s new funding for military operations, Ebola, and health research.
Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, protested a rollback of Wall Street regulations governing derivatives, a financial instrument heavily involved in the 2008 financial meltdown, as well as a provision that would increase the amount of money donors could contribute to political party committees. Many Republicans, meanwhile, were upset the bill didn’t do more to block Obama’s executive action on immigration, which would shield as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants from deportation.
So far, no Democrat or Republican has threatened a filibuster. On the right, Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee – who have resorted to filibusters to challenge similar spending deals in the past – have demanded leadership attach language to the bill blocking the president’s immigration order but neither has declared their next move. Asked by reporters about his plans on Friday, Cruz called for a “clear up-or-down vote on funding President Obama’s illegal executive amnesty” and said he would use “every tool available” to achieve it, but declined to answer reporters’ follow-up questions as to whether that included a filibuster. A spokesman for Lee, Brian Phillips, told msnbc a filibuster was “highly unlikely.” Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the body’s leading immigration hardliner, told reporters on Thursday he did not plan to delay a bill.
On the left, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who helped rally House Democrats against the bill, filed an amendment together with GOP Sen. David Vitter to strip the change to Dodd-Frank out of the legislation. But it’s not expected to go anywhere, as Reid would have to accept amendments to the legislation first. And Warren hasn’t indicated that she’d go so far as to filibuster the legislation. Senator Bernie Sanders, a liberal stalwart who led a one-man filibuster against a 2010 tax deal he thought unfairly favored the rich, told msnbc he opposed the spending bill but was not planning to obstruct it for now.
Similarly, Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, a top Warren ally in opposing Wall Street deregulation, told reporters the same day that he would allow it to go forward as well, despite his objections. “There’s not much power to do that this late in the session,” he said when asked about a filibuster. On Friday morning, the Senate leadership announced that Brown would become the highest ranking Democrat on the Banking Committee in the next Congress.
In a floor speech on Friday night, an impassioned Warren slammed Citigroup for its role in lobbying for the change and argued that its success pressuring lawmakers to add it to the bill proved that big banks had grown too politically powerful and must be dismantled.
“There is a lot of talk coming from Citigroup about how Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect,” Warren said. ”So let me say this to anyone who is listening at Citi: I agree with you. Dodd-Frank isn’t perfect. It should have broken you into pieces.”
It would be a shock if the Senate, whose Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski negotiated the spending bill with her House Republican counterpart, Hal Rogers, rejected the bill outright. Unease with the deal is strong, however, and even some in leadership are unsure how to proceed. Senator Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat, has ripped the bill over its riders and, according to The Washington Post, remains undecided on his final vote.
“I think the special interest groups, particularly the Wall Street banks, are salivating at the thought of the new Congress and want to park themselves under the mistletoe when it comes to this bill and I have real problems with that,” Durbin told reporters Thursday.
The White House, Reid and House Democrats who supported the spending deal said there was a lot to like in the underlying spending bill, including increases to funding for early childhood education, the National Institutes of Health and the Ebola fight, among other measures. And while it makes small changes to the Affordable Care Act and clean water regulations, it also would leave the health care law, sweeping new climate change regulations, and the president’s immigration actions untouched for now.
Democratic leaders say that pushing the fight to the next Congress would only weaken their position as Republicans will assume control of both chambers, giving them more leverage to potentially secure even more far-reaching changes.
Boehner, attempting to calm the far-right flank of his caucus, reassured members that they would challenge the president immigration moves soon. Under the deal crafted by the speaker, the spending agreement was split into two parts, one that funds the vast majority of the government through next September and a smaller bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security, which handles immigration enforcement, through February.
The division means Republicans can challenge the president again early next year by tying the Homeland Security funding to language blocking his plan to protect millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, effectively threatening a partial government shutdown if Democrats don’t capitulate.
“This measure puts us on track to save taxpayers more than $2.1 trillion while protecting jobs and supporting our national defense,” Boehner said in a statement after the House approved the bill. “In addition, by the House’s action, we are setting up a direct challenge to the president’s unilateral actions on immigration next month, when there will be new Republican majorities in both chambers.”
Additional reporting by Jane C. Timm.