Dealbreaker: Senate Rejects House Budget Due to Lack of Car Subsidies

What’s keeping Congress from passing an extension to the federal budget? Democratic protection of automobile subsidies.

Top Senate Democrat Harry Reid vows to keep an clean-car subsidy in the budget, come hell or high water. Photo: ##http://www.chron.com/news/article/Disaster-aid-showdown-looms-on-Capitol-Hill-2179781.php##J. Scott Applewhite / AP##

After midnight last night, the House finally managed to narrowly pass a budget extension bill, but Senate leaders have already rejected it out of hand, since it includes about half the disaster relief they’d like and cuts $1.5 billion from a clean-fuel technology manufacturing program for the auto industry.

The disagreement is strong enough that it threatens to keep Congress in session longer than intended — likely through the weekend, and possibly even into next week’s scheduled recess.

That gives them a week, if necessary, to avert a government shutdown — the potential consequence of inaction on a bill to extend federal government spending past September 30.

Clean vehicles are great, but if Democrats really want to meet important environmental goals, just imagine how much good they could do by spending that $1.5 billion to implement better bus systems or provide emergency assistance to transit agencies struggling to keep up with higher ridership.

In addition to highlighting how Senate Democrats highly prize car subsidies, this situation also puts in perspective the brewing fight over the FY2012 budget. If Congress can’t even pass a simple extension to keep government operations for a few months, with just a few billion dollars’ difference, how will they ever agree to bridge the enormous gap between their visions for FY2012?

Meanwhile, Congress is learning, or perhaps not learning, that they can’t expect to pass clean extensions at the last minute when they can’t agree or aren’t ready to take a pass new legislation in time for the old legislation to expire. Extensions are rarely “clean” anymore, and the new items in them are often cause for rancorous debate.

Lawmakers are still optimistic that they’ll make a deal, and experts caution against too much hysteria over a possible government shutdown, since every budget vote in recent memory has gone down to the wire, and somehow lawmakers always figure something out, usually without missing any of their recess time. In comparison with some of those epic fights, this skirmish over a few billion dollars seems easily solved.

However, it does remind us of a similar situation earlier this year, when the country found itself on the brink of a shutdown. Streetsblog asked transportation agencies and industry officials what a shutdown would mean for them. AASHTO said states wouldn’t be able to get reimbursed for transportation spending, totaling about $100 million a day. An official from Dallas Area Rapid Transit said a shutdown would only present a serious problem if it dragged on for months, but the agency could handle a few weeks without federal reimbursements. Construction industry leaders, already fed up with inaction on Capitol Hill from the two-year delay in passing a new transportation bill, seemed resigned to coping with the problems Washington presents them.

  • Joe

    This is a distortion. What the Senate objects to is passing a natural disaster relief bill that contains offsetting cuts. It is unprecedented for the GOP to demand cuts in exchange for disaster relief and has not happened in the past: normally, providing immediate aid to sufferers of a natural disaster is a bipartisan no-brainer. The fact is that this particular green policy is already in action and creating jobs (whether it could be spent on public transportation is besides the point), and the GOP wants to stop it as a purely political move.

  • Agreed with Joe – the politics are far more complicated than “Democrats like cars.”  Democrats like environmentalism, and this is a “green” program, so they don’t want to cut it.  Democrats don’t like getting bullied, and this is the time they’ve started to draw lines int he sand.  Democrats don’t like the precedent of offsetting disaster relief, and they don’t like halfway funding it.  So a bill that cuts a “green” program to help offset half the needed disaster relief and being told this is how it is will get the kibosh in the Senate.  Auto-centrism has little to do with it.

  • Davistrain

    Some of us live in places where public transit and bicycles are practical substitutes for personal automobiles.  Others don’t, and vehicles using electric power from domestic sources are preferable to those that burn petroleum products.  I have commented before that the automobile, when a Metro or Mercedes gives the driver powers that only the wealthy had a hundred year (or more) ago, and I will quote Huey Long’s slogan: “Every Man a King.” Encouraging (or forcing) Americans to ride buses or pedal around on bicycles will be a hard sell, accompanied by much grumbling and whining about “The Good Old Days”.

  • The Democrats aren’t doing this for the automobile subsidies. It’s not as if they’re protecting parking minimums or highway spending. What they’re doing is industrial policy, which has the incidental effect of subsidizing cars. It’s not transportation policy; it’s a bad attempt at trying to encourage domestic manufacturing.

  • Anonymous

    I agree with the ‘extortion’ reaction – I see it as more than a ‘clean car subsidy’ – more like ‘manufacturing subsidy’ that happens to be for electric cars and their components.
    In fact,NPR ran a good story on it this morning:
    “Clean-Car Jobs Vs. Disaster Relief: The New Standoff”http://www.npr.org/2011/09/24/140760512/clean-car-loan-program-adds-fuel-to-shutdown-fears

  • Anonymous

    This blog has completely jumped the shark. What a distortion.

    Offsetting disaster relief with a cut clearly designed to “piss off librulz” is an unprecedented overreach, and Democrats have a responsibility to fight back, no matter what the merits of the program are.

    It would be like if Nancy Pelosi, when she was running the House, said she would only fund disaster relief by cutting defense contracts or agricultural subsidies.

    Are defense contracts and agricultural subsidies wasteful? Yes. Does she have the right to blackmail people who were struck by a national disaster to implement cuts to programs she doesn’t like? No.

    If you turn disaster relief into partisan football, disaster relief bills won’t pass, and regions in need of aid will suffer.

  • I still can not understand why they go on working when they are very old. 

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