The bill passed after House Democrats met privately for several hours to mull their opposition to the legislation, which stemmed mostly from a provision to roll back a Wall Street reform measure passed in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.
With passage of the bill hanging in the balance, the White House jumped in, making calls to Democrats and dispatching White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough to the meeting. McDonough worked to convince Democrats that the president did all he could to get the Republicans to remove the banking provision from the legislation and that he was not aware it was in there when he agreed to the deal, Democrats in the room said.
McDonough may have convinced some members, but not House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who told Democrats just before the vote, “I’m giving you the leverage to do whatever you have to do. We have enough votes to show them never to do this again.”
The prospects for passage dimmed earlier in the day, after it first appeared bipartisan support would push the bill over the finish line.
Republicans have long known they would lose 60 or more of their most conservative flank, who are angry the bill does not block Obama’s recent directive to allow five million illegal immigrants to obtain work permits.
But they did not count on the rising anger from liberal House and Senate Democrats in opposition to the banking provision, which would allow banks to engage in potentially risky derivatives trading.
The measure then nearly failed when lawmakers voted on the legislative rule, which is needed to advance the bill.
Pelosi then announced her opposition to the bill because of the move to roll back the reform, which Democrats fought to pass while she was House speaker in 2010.
The California Democrat said Republicans pushed to include the provision in the bill because it was a must-pass measure to keep the government operating.
“This is ransom, this is blackmail,” Pelosi said on the House floor.”You don’t get a bill unless Wall Street gets taxpayer coverage.”
Democrats were also angered by language lifting the cap on some campaign donations, which they say will allow the wealthy to wield more influence on elections.
Republicans argued that the deal was negotiated ahead of time with Democrats in both chambers, and they should therefore not oppose it.
“It was agreed to in a bipartisan, bicameral basis,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
The same language was also passed by the House earlier this year, and it received the backing of dozens of Democrats, many of them members of the House Appropriations Committee.
It was the Democratic appropriators, in the end, who helped provide the votes to pass the bill.
Democrats also feared the alternative. Republicans said if the bill failed, they would have brought to the floor a three-month temporary funding bill, or continuing resolution, that would have expired next year, when Republicans control both chambers. Democrats would then have had no leverage at all in the funding fight.
“A CR would be the worst possible thing that could happen,” Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., told his fellow Democrats just before the final vote. “Hold your nose, and make this a better world.”