WASHINGTON, D.C. — It’s just a bill. Yes, it’s only a bill, and that’s the way it’ll stay up on Capitol Hill.
The Republican legislation to “deem” its federal budget law — Senate approval or not — passed the House Friday 221-202 after colorful debate that included lessons meant for children on how a bill becomes a law.
Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., chose “House Mouse, Senate Mouse,” in which the “Squeaker of the House” and the “Senate Mousejority Leader” compromise on a national cheese.
“Perhaps if this were the rules that the Republicans had to follow — it’s much thinner and it rhymes — maybe you’d get it right,” Weiner told his GOP colleagues.
Republicans were well aware that their bill, the “Government Shutdown Prevention Act of 2011,” does not follow the traditional path to becoming law, stood no chance of doing so and raised constitutional questions over its terms.
They brought it up for debate anyway, the latest round in the circular finger-pointing exercise to redirect blame for the budget impasse onto others.
Under the bill, the budget already passed by the House and rejected by the Senate becomes law if the Senate does not reverse course and approve it by April 6. The current budget that pays for the government runs out two days later, meaning that if no agreement is reached on spending for the remaining six months of this budget year, part of the government would shut down on April 9.
A shutdown would mean that lawmakers and President Barack Obama would not get paid, a provision some have questioned because the Constitution explicitly says the president’s pay can’t be changed in the middle of his term.
The specter of a shutdown haunts both parties and has inspired some robust blame-throwing in public, while behind closed doors, negotiators for House Republicans, Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama huddle over the details.
The circle of blame works this way: Senate Democrats blame the tea party for House Republicans’ refusal to back off the budget they passed last month, which would cut $61 billion and repeal the health care overhaul. House Republicans blame Senate Democrats for rejecting that plan and not proposing one of their own. And the tea party, which is pushing for the full $100 billion in cuts Republicans promised in the 2010 campaign, blames them both.
Republicans are feeling the tea party heat. On Friday, House Republicans brought up a bill that many acknowledged had little value except as an insurance policy against blame, in case of a government shutdown.
“It’s showing our intent to cut spending,” said freshman Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Mich. It’s also, he added, an expression of frustration with the Senate. “Why is the Senate AWOL on this?”
But Democrats said the bill made a mockery of a fairly common legislative tactic where by voting on one bill, the House or Senate “deems” that another bill is approved.
Republicans howled a year ago when House Democrats, trying to avoid a direct vote on the massive health care act, deemed that a vote on a small fix-it bill accompanying the legislation would automatically send the health care bill, already approved by the Senate, to President Obama for his signature.
Then-minority leader John Boehner said the Democratic effort to avoid a direct House vote was “the ultimate in Washington power grabs, a legislative ploy that lets Democrats defy the will of the American people.”
On Friday, Democrats derided the Republican spending bill as a childish waste of the House’s time.
“I wish I were not standing here explaining to my colleagues how a bill becomes law,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., the senior Democrat on the Rules Committee.
“Perhaps at the start of the next Congress, we should show the Schoolhouse Rock video, ‘I’m Just a Bill,’” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla.
One sponsor of the GOP bill, Rep. Rob Woodall of Georgia, noted that the “Schoolhouse Rock” series of educational cartoons also talked about the Preamble to the Constitution.
“What it means is, folks elect their representatives and they send them to Washington, D.C., and say, ‘Get your business done,’” Woodall said. “That’s what we are trying to do with this resolution here today.”