With the sequestration deadline having come and gone, and the cuts starting to take their toll, attention now shifts to the next big fiscal fight. Funding for the federal government will run out this month, and Congress will need a temporary spending bill -- called a "continuing resolution" -- to keep the lights on through the end of the fiscal year in September.
If lawmakers don't, the government will shut down -- a fate leaders in both parties are eager to avoid.
To that end, the House passed its stopgap bill today, though it's not without its share of political baggage.
The House passed a six-month stopgap spending bill Wednesday that lays out money for defense and veterans programs, with Senate Democrats expected to push to add more appropriations measures to the package next week.
The chamber voted 267-151 for the legislation (HR 933), which would freeze existing appropriations levels for most accounts and set total discretionary spending at $984 billion after across-the-board cuts that began March 1. Fifty-three Democrats voted for the bill, and 14 Republicans voted against it.
The final roll call on the spending measure is online here.
In theory, if the House wanted to undo some or all of the damage done by sequestration cuts, this was a perfect opportunity to do so. Indeed, since many GOP leaders claimed to hate the sequester -- it was, they kept saying, President Obama's awful idea -- they could undo it by restoring the needed funds in the continuing resolution.
But as you might have guessed, that's not what House Republicans had in mind. Their temporary spending bill seeks to ease the sequester pain when it comes to military spending, but under the GOP proposal, everyone else feeling the pinch is pretty much "out of luck."
So, are Americans stuck with this if they want to avoid a government shutdown? Not at all. In fact, today's vote should generally be considered the point at which the process begins in earnest, not ends.
Current funding that keeps the government's lights on doesn't end until March 27 -- three weeks from today -- and between now and then, the Senate will weigh in with a continuing resolution of its own. If you're thinking it's likely to be quite different from the House version approved today, you're correct.
Indeed, the Senate version is probably going to go much further in trying to replace sequestration cuts
In the meantime, President Obama will try a charm offense in the hopes of a larger deal that's more to the White House's liking.
Postscript: Since the GOP leadership managed to corral only 214 Republican votes for the continuing resolution, does that mean the spending bill would have failed without Democratic votes? No. In this case, because so many members were out today, the measure needed 210 votes to pass, instead of the usual 218. The fact that the bill had 53 Democratic supporters has some rhetorical value, but it didn't affect the outcome.