U.S. Congress Manages To Avert Shutdown After Fight
Published: September 28, 2011 (Issue # 1676)
WASHINGTON — A bitterly divided and poll-battered Congress has nearly worked its way out of a nasty fight over disaster aid, but only by abruptly abandoning efforts to immediately refill almost empty federal disaster relief accounts.
Instead, with the administration assuring lawmakers that the immediate infusion of $1 billion in disaster money wasn’t needed to avoid a cutoff this week, Senate leaders moved quickly Monday to jettison the money from a pending Democratic measure and instead pass bare-bones legislation to avert a government shutdown at week’s end.
That measure, approved by the Senate on a 79-12 vote, would keep the government running until mid-November.
The House appears likely to endorse that measure next week when it returns from a weeklong recess. In the meantime, a one-week stopgap measure needed to avoid a government shutdown at midnight Friday appeared likely to be adopted in a sparsely attended session Thursday. The weeklong measure would provide a $2.7 billion infusion of disaster money that would make sure federal help continues to flow to victims of Hurricane Irene and other disasters.
The lowest-common-denominator solution came after Republicans stymied efforts by Senate Democrats for a $6.9 billion disaster aid package. House Republicans instead insisted on a $3.7 billion measure — with $1 billion of the most urgently needed money “paid for” with cuts to clean energy programs important to Democrats.
After pushing for weeks for a higher disaster aid figure, Senate Democrats instead fought their last battle to make sure the energy programs emerged uncut. But the casualty was $1 billion in disaster relief supported by Republicans and Democrats alike.
The breakthrough of sorts came after the Federal Emergency Management Agency indicated Monday it had enough money for disaster relief efforts through Friday. That disclosure allowed lawmakers to move to the lower disaster aid figure and allow both sides to save face.
The aid debate will be revisited when Congress passes a massive spending bill later this year. Under the terms of last month’s budget pact, up to $11.3 billion in disaster aid could be added to the budget without having to be offset by spending cuts.