The 113th Congress had not even been in session a week before Democrats were demanding that the first appropriations bill in the U.S. House of Representatives had to be paid for with more borrowed money, instead of accepting an equal reduction in current federal government spending levels. Sources close to the Democratic leadership in the House are saying that Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had made it clear to the rest of the Democratic caucus, after Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) refused to take up a Senate authored bill for Sandy relief, that she would not accept any cuts in spending to get a Sandy relief bill, "just like with the debt ceiling". In other words, the money would have to be borrowed, and Democrats would accept no spending cuts to offset the appropriations. Today, the House approved a $9.7 billion Sandy relief bill, on a 354-67 vote, which extends additional borrowing authority to the National Flood Insurance Program, through which flood insurance claims from Hurricane Sandy will be paid. Unlike the pork-laden $60.4 billion Sandy relief bill, which was not taken up in the final week of the 112th Congress, H.R. 41, titled as "To temporarily increase the borrowing authority of the Federal Emergency Management Agency for carrying out the National Flood Insurance Program", does not include spending for non-Sandy items, or propose changes to appeal rules for federal disaster programs, like in the prior Senate crafted bill.
The bill, which now goes to the Senate for consideration, raises the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program from $20.725 billion to $30.425 billion, effectively spending 1/6 of the new revenue raised in the "fiscal cliff" bill just two days into the new legislative session. 67 Republicans voted against the measure, after their calls for spending cuts in exchange for Sandy relief did not receive an audience with Republican leaders. Democrats had tried to paint Boehner in an unflattering light, just before the election for the Speaker's position, by protesting against Boehner's decision to bring up the $60.4 billion prior Sandy relief bill. John Boehner was re-elected as Speaker without a challenger. He responded by refusing to allow a vote on any measure that would include anything more than the increase in available funds in the flood insurance program, and that was exactly what he got. While Democrats only got the increase in available funds to pay flood insurance, they managed to get this version of the Sandy relief bill to a vote this time around.
Nancy Pelosi's actions signal that, at least at this point in time, she has no intention of offering any cuts to spending at any time soon, which is setting up a big battle over one more increase in the debt limit. While the Obama administration says that it believes it can hold off for several more months before it would need additional borrowing authority for the federal government, President Obama is making no secret of the fact that he will not accept spending cuts to get an increase in the debt limit. The President, and Democrats in Congress, have not made any mention of any reductions that they are willing to accept to get the debt limit increase, meaning that they intend to try to get that increase without having to accept spending cuts to go along with it. This is setting the stage for a heated battle with Republicans, over the next two months, on more than just the debt ceiling increase.
Before the battle over the "fiscal cliff", Republicans had been talking openly about comprehensive immigration reform. After the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, Democrats, who support further gun control measures, felt emboldened, and went public with their intentions. This set off a gun buying spree all over the U.S., and calls from the National Rifle Association to place armed guards in schools. When President Obama held a rally at the White House, just before the House was to vote on the "fiscal cliff" deal, where his supporters cheered raising taxes on people other than themselves, Republicans got angry, and with the federal government now spending in excess of the debt limit, newly elected Tea Party Republicans have withdrawn their support for not only immigration reform, but any changes to existing federal gun laws; including pulling support for a new assault weapons ban.
While Democrats are claiming victory today after the vote for Hurricane Sandy relief, there is little question that prospects for any legislative victories they could have between now and the extended "sequester date", delayed in the "fiscal cliff deal", appear dim at best. For homeowners in the impact zone of Hurricane Sandy, the relief, while late, appears to be the best they are going to receive for several weeks. Speaker Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) have already informed Pelosi that there will be no consideration of an increase in the debt limit without spending cuts to go along with it. President Obama has said that the "fiscal cliff" deal was just the first step to resolving the issues that led to the "fiscal cliff" in the first place. With Obama refusing to speak of any spending cuts, the question needs to be asked: If tax increases were the first part of dealing with the "fiscal cliff", and the President is not going to speak of spending cuts, then what does Obama believe are the next steps?