In a rebuke to GOP leaders, the House on Wednesday rejected a measure providing $3.7 billion for disaster relief as part of a bill to keep the government running through mid-November.
The surprise 230-195 defeat came at the hands of Democrats and tea party Republicans.
Democrats were opposed because the measure contains $1.5 billion in cuts to a government loan program to help car companies build fuel-efficient vehicles. For their part, many GOP conservatives felt the underlying bill permits spending at too high a rate.
The outcome sends House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and his leadership team back to the drawing board as they seek to make sure the government doesn't shut down at the end of next week. It also raises the possibility that the government's main disaster relief program could run out of money early next week for victims of Hurricane Irene and other disasters.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has only a few days' worth of aid remaining in its disaster relief fund, lawmakers said Wednesday. The agency has already held up thousands of longer-term rebuilding projects -- repairs to sewer systems, parks, roads and bridges, for example -- to conserve money to provide emergency relief to victims of recent disasters.
The looming shortage has been apparent for months, and the Obama White House was slow to request additional money.
The underlying stopgap funding measure would finance the government through Nov. 18 to give lawmakers more time to try to reach agreement on the 12 unfinished spending bills needed to run government agencies on a day-to-day basis for the 2012 budget year.