Senate reaches deal in FEMA budget battle

C.J. Ciaramella Contributor
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Senate leaders brokered an agreement Monday night to end a partisan impasse and avoid a looming government shutdown, at least through the end of the week.

The Senate passed a continuing resolution by a vote of 79-12 funding the federal government through Nov. 18. The bill must still be approved by the House, but the Senate also passed a short term bill funding government through Oct. 4, giving both chambers additional breathing room.

The deal was reached after the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced it did not immediately require additional disaster aid funding, defusing the major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats.

The two chambers of Congress were at loggerheads last week over disaster aid funding to FEMA, with House Republicans demanding spending cuts to offset additional funds to the agency.

The Republican-crafted resolution which passed the House on Friday included roughly $3.2 billion in FEMA funding for fiscal year 2012, but about $1.5 billion of that was offset by spending cuts to a Department of Energy loan program for manufacturers of fuel-efficient cars.

Democrats bitterly objected to the offsets and blocked the House bill, leaving legislators scrambling to reach a deal before a government shutdown occurred on Friday, when current government funding runs out. (RELATED: ‘Nope,’ Cantor doesn’t want to abandon FEMA pet evacuation funding)

Senate Democrats accused Republicans of playing politics with disaster aid and repeatedly pinned blame on House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor for the hold-up, calling the offsets the “tea party agenda” and the “Cantor doctrine.”

“We didn’t choose this fight,” Sen. Mary Landrieu said. “It was started by Rep. Eric Cantor.”

Republicans said looking for ways to cut spending from the debt-ridden federal government was only responsible.

“Only in the bizarre world that is Washington, could anyone insist that we borrow more money rather than do the responsible thing and find budgetary offsets for new spending,” Sen. Rand Paul said in a statement.

The “clean” continuing resolution passed by the Senate Monday night includes $2.5 billion for FEMA with no offsets. It also include about $1 billion in FEMA funding for fiscal year 2011, which ends Friday.

The Senate rejected another proposal by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would have nixed the House offsets and provided $3.6 billion for FEMA, including $1 billion in emergency funding for fiscal year 2011.

The House is on a weeklong recess and is not scheduled to be back in session until Oct. 3. Republican leaders in the House have not indicated how they will deal with the Senate bill, or if they will at all.

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