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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
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And I'm Melissa Block. There is a test underway on Capitol Hill. The question is can Congress handle even its most basic functions now without getting tied up in partisan knots? The stakes today are high. The House has yet to agree on a bill to fund disaster relief and keep the entire federal government running beyond next week. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: Last night, something dramatic and unexpected happened on the House floor.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: The yeas are 195. The nays are 230. The motion is not adopted.
KEITH: A measure that was supposed to pass, failed. It was a temporary funding measure to keep the government operating for another couple of months. And it also included $3.7 billion in urgently needed disaster assistance funds. Both of those things have been routine in the past. Not this time. Speaker of the House John Boehner says that was just the House working its will.
JOHN BOEHNER: Trying to get 535 people to come to an agreement on anything around here is difficult, but we've known that going in. We'll work our way through this. I've always been confident that we'll be able to come to an agreement, and we will.
KEITH: So what happened here? In order for a measure to pass the House, almost all of the Republicans - who are in the majority - need to support it. Or if not enough Republicans are on board, then leaders need to get Democratic support. In this case, they got neither. Forty-eight conservative Republicans and almost all of the Democrats voted against it. The measure didn't cut enough spending to satisfy Tea Party Republicans, and it offset the disaster funding with cuts to a clean car manufacturing program, which turned off Democrats. Here's Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
NANCY PELOSI: We should not go down a different path now than we have done on natural disaster assistance. That's why we fought so hard against what the Republicans put forth.
KEITH: All of this leaves Speaker of the House John Boehner in a tough position.
BOEHNER: Does it make my life a little more difficult? Yes, it does.
KEITH: Boehner could tack to the right to pick up conservative GOP votes but risk passing a measure the Democratic Senate won't support. Or he could tack to the left to get Democratic votes - alienating members of his own party. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid knows what he'd like.
HARRY REID: I hope now that they will move toward the center instead of moving toward the Tea Party more than they have.
KEITH: To find political posturing in the U.S. Capitol is not remarkable. What's remarkable is it has even seeped into something as universally supported as disaster funding. Senator Dick Durbin is an Illinois Democrat.
DICK DURBIN: Historically, we have stood together. Democrats and Republicans put politics aside when it came to disaster aid. We have to do the same thing now. This is an act of God that requires us to step up as Democrats and Republicans and recognize the need in every community and try to get this done as quickly as possible.
KEITH: In recent days, Democrats and Republicans in both houses have accused each other of playing politics. For Mark Rohr, the city manager in Joplin, Missouri, who wins and who loses this fight doesn't much matter.
MARK ROHR: In my estimation, there's two primary things that the federal government should do. Number one is national defense, and number two is assist the cities and other government entities in recovery from natural disasters.
KEITH: When the tornado tore through Joplin in May, it left behind thousands of destroyed homes and three million cubic yards of debris. Rohr says federal disaster assistance has been critical, and Joplin is going to need that help for a long time to come.
ROHR: We certainly hope it gets worked out and that we get the assistance we need over the long term.
KEITH: Judging from the mood around the Capitol, Rohr will probably get what he wants, but probably not without a little more political gamesmanship first. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the Capitol.
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