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Disaster Relief Fund Dispute Could Cause Government Shutdown

September 21, 2011 - by Donny Shaw

With just nine days left until the federal government runs out of money, the House of Representatives this evening rejected a temporary spending bill that would keep the government operating. The vote was 195-230. Nearly all Democrats voted “no” due to deep cuts in disaster relief funding and a program that helps auto manufacturers make more efficient vehicles. Dozens of Republicans also voted “no” because they did not think the bill cut enough spending in general.

The plan now appears to be to swap the cuts to the auto efficiency program with cuts from some other program and see if they can flip enough Democrats to pass it. But even if that works, we’re still far from an agreement between the Senate and the House that will be needed to avoid a shutdown.

On the Senate floor yesterday, Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid [D, NV] made it clear that he does not intend to accept the House language:

Last week, the Senate passed a bipartisan bill granting FEMA and other agencies that help disaster victims an additional $6.9 billion. That funding will help rebuild after several costly natural disasters, including Hurricane Irene.

Tomorrow, when the Senate receives the House bill to fund the government for six more weeks, we will amend it with the language of the Senate FEMA legislation. This year, President Obama has declared disasters in all but two states, and FEMA is quickly running out of money to help American families and communities recover.

The Senate last week approved disaster relief funding at nearly twice the level of the House bill, and it does not make any cuts, to the fuel efficiency program or otherwise, to offset it. It passed the Senate 62-37, with 10 Senate Republicans voting in favor. If the Senate does that again next week on Reid’s amendment, the bill would have to go back to the Republican-led House, which would have a very hard time passing it with the higher disaster relief fund level. And if some of the 10 Republicans flip-flop and cause the Reid amendment to die, the overall funding bill would most likely be dead in the Democrat-led Senate.

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