WASHINGTON (AP) -- With the economy sputtering, the warring factions of Congress headed toward gridlock late Thursday over the usually noncontroversial process of approving disaster aid or even keeping the government from shutting down.
GOP leaders took the spending package to the House floor Thursday night for the second time in as many days, after adding $100 million in savings from a program that financed a federal loan to the now-bankruptsolar panel maker Solyndra Inc.
The leader of the Senate countered that majority Democrats will reject the bill as soon as it reaches their chamber on Friday -- continuing the partisan war into the weekend and increasing the chances that the government's main disaster account might run dry early next week.
Democrats want almost double the $3.7 billion in disaster aid called for by House Republicans and strongly oppose cuts to two clean energy programs demanded by the GOP House.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the House plan "is not an honest effort at compromise..... It will be rejected by the Senate."
More broadly, the renewed partisanship sends a discouraging sign as a bitterly divided Washington looks ahead to more significant debates on President Barack Obama's jobs plan and efforts by a congressional supercommittee to slash deficits.
The maneuvering started as Republicans controlling the House moved to resurrect the disaster aid package after an embarrassing loss Wednesday. Instead of reaching out to Democrats, House GOP leaders looked to persuade wayward tea party Republicans to change their votes and help approve the assistance -- and try to force Senate Democrats into a corner with little choice but to accept cuts to clean energy programs they favor.
"We're fed up with this," said Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Democratic Whip. "They know what it takes for us to extend (stopgap funding) and keep the government in business. And this brinksmanship ... we're sick of it."
Unless Congress acts by midnight next Friday, much of the government will shut down. More immediate is the threat that the government's main disaster aid account will run dry early next week.
"The Senate should pass this bill immediately, and the President should sign it, because any political games will delay FEMA money that suffering American families desperately need," said Michael Steel, spokesman for GOP House Speaker John Boehner.
The battling came as the stock market absorbed heavy losses and pessimism about the economy deepened. The arguing was reminiscent of the poisonous atmosphere of this summer rather than lawmakers' more recent promises to work together to find common ground where possible.
Obama hardly sounded conciliatory as he pressed for action on his jobs bill at an Ohio River bridge that links Speaker Boehner's home state of Ohio with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's Kentucky. Echoing Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall, Obama intoned, "Mr. Boehner, Mr. McConnell, help us rebuild this bridge."
In Washington, Wednesday's embarrassing 230-195 defeat of the disaster aid bill in the GOP-majority House exposed divisions within the Republican Party that demonstrated the tenuous grip that Boehner has on the chamber. Forty-eight Republicans opposed the measure, chiefly because it would permit spending at the rate approved in last month's debt pact between Boehner and Obama, a level that is unpopular with tea partylawmakers.
GOP leaders maneuvered to win a vote on the largely identical measure by arguing to wayward Republicans that the alternative was to give Democrats a better deal by adding more disaster aid or decoupling it from $1.5 billion in spending cuts.
"What we voted on yesterday was the best deal Republicans could get and it can only go downhill from here," said Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "So we should try to revote again on the same bill we had yesterday, vote on it again, pass it this time, or if not we'll have to make concessions that would help the Democrats."
Democrats opposed the legislation over $1.5 billion in accompanying spending cuts from an Energy Department loan program that helps automobile and parts manufacturers retool their plants to build fuel efficient vehicles.
To those cuts, House leaders were adding another $100 million in savings from a loan guarantee program for renewable energy projects approved under the 2009 stimulus law. Congress set aside $2.4 billion in case some of the loans went bad, such as a $500 million-plus loan to now-bankrupt Solyndra Inc., a California-based solar panel maker effusively praised by Obama. The program expires anyway on Sept. 30.
Time is running short.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Thursday that the government's main disaster aid account is "running on fumes" and could be tapped out as early as early next week. She called on Congress to quickly resolve the problem or risk delays in getting disaster projects approved.
"I'm hopeful that Congress will work this out in the next couple of days," Napolitano told The Associated Press as she flew to Joplin, Mo., to view tornado damage. "We have stretched this as far as it can go. We are scraping the bottom of the barrel."
As of Thursday morning, there was just $212 million in the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief fund. The failed House measure contains $3.7 billion in disaster aid, mostly for the FEMA fund. A rival Senate measure muscled through that chamber last week by Reid -- with the help of 10 Republicans -- would provide $6.9 billion.
Republicans had hoped that once the House passes the measure, Senate Democrats would have had little choice but to accept it, especially with lawmakers eager to escape Washington for a weeklong recess. The move instead infuriated Democrats, who felt GOP leaders were trying to "jam" them into accepting the GOPbill.
The drama and battling over disaster aid and stopgap spending is unusual. Such measures usually pass routinely since the alternative is shutting down much of the government and denying help to victims of floods, hurricanes and other disasters.
What is more, the House GOP plan won bipartisan support in June when it passed as part of a broader homeland security spending bill. And the $3.7 billion in House aid would provide sufficient help whilelawmakers work out a broader spending bill for the 2012 budget year beginning Oct. 1.
Senate Democrats are instead insisting on fully funding most disaster aid programs as part of the stopgap measure, an unusual move.
The current imbroglio illustrates the difficulty lawmakers are sure to have when trying to address tougher problems. The toughest task confronts the so-called supercommittee, which is supposed to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in deficit savings over the coming decade to implement the August budget and debt pact.
The panel had its third public meeting Thursday, again exposing differences between Republicans and Democrats on taxes. The panel has until Thanksgiving to produce legislation -- and there's no sign yet of much progress toward agreement.
Before Thursday night's eruption, the Senate had had an unusually productive week. For example, it voted Thursday to help American workers who fall victim to foreign competition. The move to renew expired portions of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, which provides retraining and financial support for workers adversely affected by trade, sets the stage for Obama to submit trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.