Sept. 20, 2011 – 11:20 p.m.
Reid Keeps Up Fight on Disaster Aid
By Kerry Young and Niels Lesniewski, CQ Staff
House Republicans and Senate Democrats still have not resolved a dispute over offsetting new disaster aid, and the fight threatens to slow down a must-pass stopgap spending bill.
Rhetoric over the issue escalated Tuesday, when Senate Majority Leader
But his GOP counterpart, Minority Leader
Congress is scheduled to leave at the end of the week, but lawmakers need to clear a continuing resolution (CR) before Oct. 1 to avert a government shutdown. And lawmakers from both parties are eager to replenish the Disaster Relief Fund, which has blown through its cash reserves covering the cost of a record number of disasters this year.
“Exactly how we get from where we are to the end of the trail by Thursday night, I couldn’t tell you, but I can confidently tell you we’re going to respond with assistance to those who are in need,” McConnell, R-Ky., said. “There won’t be a government shutdown. Congress always responds appropriately to disasters. We’re having a discussion about the appropriate way to do that.”
Reid is pushing legislation that would provide $500 million in immediate fiscal 2011 aid without offsets, while Majority Leader
Reid said Tuesday he will move to amend a House continuing resolution (
The House measure also includes $2.65 billion in fiscal 2012 disaster aid, on top of the $1 billion in fiscal 2011 money. The House is scheduled to vote on its measure Wednesday.
To prevail, Reid must hang on to most of the Republicans who backed his approach last week. He could lose only two of the 10 Republicans who voted with Democrats to pass, 62-37, the $6.9 billion for disaster aid without offsets. Many of Reid’s Republican supporters are from states hit hard by 2011 disasters, including
So far, there is no clear indication who will prevail, although the vote the House is scheduled to take Wednesday will be on a legislative vehicle for the CR that would expedite procedural matters in the Senate, an indication that leaders are aware that the issue needs to be resolved quickly.
Major Disaster Year
With 83 major disasters declared by President Obama in 2011, this year has surpassed the previous annual record, set last year when there were 81 presidential declarations. This spring brought severe storms and tornadoes in the Southeast and parts of the Midwest, while flooding has hit in many parts of the country. Late this summer, damage from Hurricane Irene put further pressure on the nation’s disaster relief fund, which has been whittled down to $257 million from about $800 million before Irene made landfall in late August.
With so many states experiencing disasters this year, Reid could maintain enough GOP support to prevail on the offset battle, said budget hawk
Reid Keeps Up Fight on Disaster Aid
“All of the Democrats will vote for it, and a lot of Republicans,” DeMint said, noting that many of his GOP colleagues are from states hit hard by disasters this year and will not be able to vote against a disaster relief bill.
“It becomes very politically difficult to do that because the media back home will nail you,” DeMint said. “It’s hard to say no around here but we have to figure out how to do it.”
But some Republicans who supported Reid last week remain noncommittal about what they plan to do on future disaster aid votes.
Blunt said his decision probably will rest on what kind of assurance he can get that the final fiscal 2012 appropriation for disaster relief will come in around the Senate’s higher level.
“It’s fine with me if it’s paid for,” Blunt said of the offset battle, “but it’s particularly important to me that we follow through on what needs to be done on levee repairs and on disaster recovery of all kinds.”
Reid talked in very tough terms on Tuesday. Fiscal 2012 starts Oct. 1 and Congress has not cleared any new appropriations measures for the year. Both chambers have scheduled recesses for the last week of September, which includes the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashana. That is adding pressure to get a CR cleared for Obama by Sept. 23, the last day that either chamber is scheduled to be in session this month. Reid said Congress will need to stay in session until new disaster money is approved, and indicated that he intended to stand firm on this point.
“We’re not going to back down,” he said.
Senate Democrats had accused House leaders of playing politics with the CR after the GOP last week revealed that they would seek the offset for the disaster aid. House Republicans on Tuesday said the same of Reid.
“There is nothing but politics involved if
The House stopgap would pay for $1 billion in immediate fiscal 2011 disaster relief by taking away $1.5 billion in funding from the Energy Department’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. Reid has indicated his opposition to the House offset, citing the resurgence of the U.S. auto industry.
“I was disappointed to see that the House shortchanged the Federal Emergency Management Agency by failing to provide the funding to adequately help Americans whose lives have been devastated by floods, hurricanes and tornadoes,” Reid said Tuesday morning on the Senate floor.