House overcomes GOP bluster, passes budget extension

HOUSE OVERCOMES GOP BLUSTER, PASSES BUDGET EXTENSION…. House leaders faced a fairly credible threat of a far-right revolt, but this afternoon, it was easily overcome.

The House voted 271-158 Tuesday afternoon in favor of a three-week stopgap spending measure that would keep the government funded through April 8.

The Senate is expected to pass the continuing resolution, which includes $6 billion in cuts to the federal budget, before the end of the week.

Some conservative House Republicans had pledged to vote against the measure, saying it does not make enough cuts and does not include social-issue riders some had wanted.

When the roll was called, 54 House Republicans broke ranks and opposed the compromise plan presented by their own GOP leadership. In theory, that would have been enough to kill the three-week extension, but 85 House Democrats supported the measure that prevents a shutdown.

Yes, it is rather odd when Boehner, Cantor & Co. count on House Dems to save the day.

Senate passage appears all-but assured, and President Obama will promptly sign the extension into law. It will leave policymakers just three weeks to figure out a deal for the rest of the fiscal year — the new deadline will be 23 days from today.

Time will tell how this plays out, but I’m not at all optimistic. Jonathan Bernstein suggested this afternoon that the likelihood of a government shutdown is now greater than 80%, and I’m very much inclined to agree.

Plenty of congressional Republicans have been willing to go along with these two temporary extensions (“continuing resolutions,” in the parlance) just so long as they were consistent with their arbitrary spending-cut targets. Cuts of $2 billion a week meant the GOP was largely happy, even if they weren’t the party’s preferred cuts, and since the reductions came from Democratic proposals, bipartisan support wasn’t too terribly difficult.

That’s over now. Rank-and-file Republicans have said they’ll tolerate no more extensions, and as best as I can tell, Dems don’t want any more, either. Republicans have also said they won’t budge from their cut targets, no matter how much damage it does to the economy, while Democrats insist the GOP goals are a non-starter.

What’s more, the trick that has worked so far — Republicans simply adopting Democratic cuts as their own to meet the arbitrary target — isn’t a credible option anymore. The GOP has picked the easy stuff — Dems don’t have $54 billion in additional cuts lying around — and in the process has left Dems with even few tolerable cuts to offer in the next round of negotiations.

And just to make things even more interesting, the Senate will be off next week, which will, at a minimum, slow discussions down.

The House helped buy some time today, but I fear the lower chamber has delayed the inevitable.