By Susan Davis, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans failed to move forward Tuesday with a piecemeal approach to fund popular parts of the federal government to lessen the impact of the first government shutdown in 17 years.
House and Senate Republicans had offered short-term funding plans to keep open national parks, the Department of Veterans' Affairs, and other government services in the nation's capital. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky. said the piecemeal approach would "continue to move the ball down the field" towards finding an agreement to resume full government funding.
But the GOP efforts failed to win the necessary support in the House to advance to the Senate. The votes fell well short of the two-thirds threshold needed to suspend House rules.
The Senate had already warned that the plan would meet fate there as every previous attempt by the House to amend the stopgap funding bill. In that chamber, Democrats maintain the only way to end the shutdown is for the House to allow a vote on a stopgap measure to fund the government through mid-November that does not include legislation affecting President Obama's health care law.
Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she did not support funding the government in "bits and pieces."
"We're the entire United States of America. You keep the whole government going, that's what you're supposed to do," she said. "All they have to do in the House is let the House vote on the Senate (bill) and let the House work it's will."
The White House agreed. "These piecemeal efforts are not serious, and they are no way to run a government. If House Republicans are legitimately concerned about the impacts of a shutdown — which extend across government from our small businesses to women, children and seniors — they should do their job and pass a clean CR to reopen the government," said Amy Brundage, a White House spokeswoman.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Democrats were not against debating some of the proposals that Republicans offered in the weeks leading up to the shutdown on the Affordable Care Act. He cited as an example a proposal to repeal a 2.3% tax on medical devices enacted to help pay for the law. However, Durbin said Democrats would not negotiate on the stopgap spending bill, or on a pending vote to increase the debt ceiling, the nation's borrowing limit.
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"After the CR and the debt ceiling, I have been open to that," Durbin said, "Doing this with a gun to your head, as we've said over and over again, is not the appropriate way to bargain."
House Republicans huddled in private earlier Tuesday, and lawmakers showed no signs of losing cohesion on the first day of the shutdown. Republicans are bullish about the politics of a shutdown and they have reason to be, said David Wasserman, an analyst for the non-partisan Cook Political Report.
"Democrats have always believed a shutdown would finally make voters pay attention to how 'extreme' House Republicans are. So far there's not a ton of evidence that the game has changed," Wasserman said.
By Mark K. Matthews and Scott Powers, Orlando Sentinel
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday nixed a key provision of the landmark Voting Rights Act, clearing the way for election officials in Florida and 14 other states to change their voting rules without automatic review by federal authorities.
In ruling for the 5-4 majority, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the long-standing civil-rights law relied on outdated data in forcing all or part of 15 states — including five counties in Florida — to clear changes with the courts or U.S. Department of Justice.
One immediate effect for Florida could be the resumption of a controversial voter-rolls check that state elections officials began last year but halted in the fall. The state wants to use federal data to identify noncitizens illegally registered to vote.
In justifying the decision, Roberts wrote that the requirement for federal oversight of some states and counties was based on "decades-old data and eradicated practices," such as literacy tests. He cited improved rates of black-voter turnout in the South as a sign of progress.
Though the high court struck down the old standards, it left the door open for federal officials to regain their supervisory role. But that would require Congress to draw up a new set of guidelines to determine which states would face oversight — a steep climb given the partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill today.
Even so, President Barack Obama — echoing the frustration expressed Tuesday by voter-protection groups nationwide — vowed to keep fighting for the Voting Rights Act, which was first signed into law in 1965 in the aftermath of violent attacks against civil-rights protesters.
"While today's decision is a setback, it doesn't represent the end of our efforts to end voting discrimination," he said in a statement. "I am calling on Congress to pass legislation to ensure every American has equal access to the polls."
In the meantime, the states, counties and townships previously restricted by the Voting Rights Act now are free to change election rules without prior federal review, including revisions to the number of early-voting days.
Though only five Florida counties — Hillsborough, Collier, Monroe, Hendry and Hardee — have been under federal supervision, the law has been at the center of recent fights over statewide changes to election protocol.
Civil-rights groups used the law to as part of their challenge to efforts by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 to cut the number of early-voting days from 14 to eight and impose tougher restrictions on third-party groups that register voters — decisions later reversed by either the courts or the Legislature.
A less robust Voting Rights Act could make it harder to fight these efforts in the future, they said.
"This governor and this Legislature have been a walking advertisement as to why federal oversight is needed," said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.
As an example, ACLU officials cited a recent push by the Scott administration to purge the voter rolls of noncitizens.
The campaign — which at one point threatened the voting rights of two World War II veterans — was put on hold by state officials until the Supreme Court issued a ruling on the Voting Rights Act.
Florida officials had started systematically reviewing voter registrations with a federal database at the Department of Homeland Security to try to identify noncitizens illegally registered to vote.
That effort identified 207 possible noncitizens who had registered to vote last year, though records showed only 39 of them had ever actually voted. Florida has nearly 12 million voters.
The plan was quickly challenged in another federal lawsuit, brought against Florida by the voting-rights-advocacy group Mi Familia, which contended Florida needed to get preclearance to run those checks for voters in the five counties covered under the Voting Rights Act.
Rather than fight the Mi Familia lawsuit, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner agreed to a court stay that put the state's entire voter check on hold to see what the Supreme Court would do.
Now the secretary of state intends to resume those efforts "and anticipates doing so with plenty of time to prepare for the next general election," Chris Cate, spokesman for the Secretary of State's Office, said in a statement.
"Florida remains very supportive of the Voting Rights Act, as we were before this ruling, but we are pleased that all of Florida's 67 counties can now implement election law at the same time," Cate said.
Scott echoed that sentiment Tuesday at a news briefing.
"Anytime that we have the opportunity to make our own decisions, I think that's great for our state," he said.
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