House Speaker John A. Boehner speaks during a news conference Thursday… (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters )
After a surprise setback, House GOP leaders were preparing new legislation to avert a government shutdown, hoping to attract additional Republican support by requiring deeper spending cuts to offset the cost of disaster aid.
House Republican leaders decided to pivot rightward Thursday, hoping to sweeten the deal for their conservative flank rather than reach across the aisle for Democratic votes.
The House was expected to vote late Thursday on the new package.
Democrats in the Senate swiftly vowed to reject the revamped bill, protesting the cuts to clean energy accounts they say produce green jobs. The new proposal cuts from the fund that provided a loan guarantee to Solyndra, the California solar panel manufacturer with White House ties that sparked a political firestorm after filing for bankruptcy, in addition to previously targeted cuts to an alternative energy technology manufacturing program.
Congress is racing the clock to resolve the standoff, as Federal Emergency Management Agency could run out of disaster money as soon as Monday and the new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
"It's wrong," said Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), about the emerging House GOP plan. "We're not going to do it."
GOP leaders had hoped to avoid a prolonged budget battle after this year's earlier fights that left the country on the verge of a federal government shutdown and debt default.
The new Republican proposal came after GOP leaders were handed a surprise defeat this week. Dozens of Republicans and a handful of Democrats opposed their proposal to fund the government but require disaster aid to be offset with spending cuts elsewhere.
Conservative Republicans rejected the overall level of government spending as too high. Democrats objected to the requirement that aid for victims of Hurricane Irene and other disasters be offset with cuts elsewhere – particularly the green energy programs they support.
Republican leaders scrambled Thursday for votes, meeting behind closed doors to assess options. Democrats, too, huddled to plan their strategy.
Republicans had considered trying to win Democratic support by changing the spending cuts that would offset FEMA aid, or dropping the cuts altogether. But ultimately GOP leaders decided the better route was to pursue votes from their own party.
In addition to slashing $1.5 billion from an alternative energy vehicle manufacturing program, Republicans decided to cut $100 million from the Energy Department account that provided loan guarantees to renewable energy companies, including Solyndra.
House Speaker John A. Boehner made assurances Thursday that Congress would pass legislation to fund the government and disaster aid, and federal offices would not shut down.