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How Democrats' anger at disaster funding helped doom House spending bill

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“No leader wants to go into a vote knowing he’s going to lose, unless he wants to make a point, which in fact may be what’s happening,” says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

GOP leaders had counted on support from Democrats to pass the CR. Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, had pledged support as recently as Tuesday.

“I said at the Rules Committee meeting that I was prepared to go along, but that was before there was a real uprising in our caucus,” Congressman Dicks said after the vote.

With a new fiscal year set to begin on Oct. 1, the failed vote sets up yet another scramble to avoid a government shutdown. Congress’s agenda has been driven by fiscal crises ever since Republicans took back control of the House in January 2011. Lawmakers took a tough vote in April to fund government for the balance of the 2011 fiscal year, then, in August, a tougher vote to raise the national debt limit to nearly $17 trillion.

With Congress yet to pass any of its 12 spending bills for FY 2012, an omnibus spending measure now must pass both the House and Senate and be signed by the president. Until this week, leaders on both sides of the aisle had predicted that such a measure would be managed without a shutdown.

But the call last week by Representative Cantor of Virginia for offsets for all disaster spending set up firefights with Senate Democrats in the runup to this vote. In the end, House Republicans proposed $3.5 billion in disaster funding, offsetting the first $1 billion by cuts to a program to boost energy efficient cars. Senate Democrats propose $6.9 billion in relief, with no offsets.

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