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Disaster Relief Funding Fractures Republicans

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Mary Landrieu makes a statement Tuesday during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security markup of the fiscal 2012 Homeland Security appropriations bill.

“I am mindful of Majority Leader Cantor’s comments,” Landrieu said. “But I have also heard from [other] Republican leaders and Republican governors that they are not in the mood to fight over how to help disaster victims. We’ll figure out how to pay for it later; they want to get the help to them now.”

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has been loudly urging Congress to put aside its partisan bickering and quickly provide aid to disaster victims. New Jersey was hit with serious floods resulting from Hurricane Irene.

“I am hoping that the Members of the House and the Senate will agree to follow the lead of the Budget Control Act, which was passed by a majority of the Congress,” Landrieu said.

Landrieu called the $6 billion in FEMA funding in her bill a “substantial down payment,” but she added that more would likely be needed.

She also said she was concerned about how to pay for around $1.5 billion in additional funding that will be needed in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

“There is still an immediate problem for this year ... and we are going to work in the next few days to resolve that,” Landrieu said.

One possible vehicle to provide the funding could be a short-term continuing resolution that House Republicans plan to pass later this month. Aides said it would likely be designed to fund the government through November — enough time for GOP leaders to persuade their membership to avoid a repeat of last spring’s shutdown fight.

However, according to numerous GOP aides, it is unclear whether the CR — which is not expected to include cuts beyond the levels agreed to in last month’s debt deal — will act as a vehicle for additional funds for disaster relief on the East Coast, in Texas and in other areas.

Leadership aides said a decision on a final length for the CR has not yet been decided.

“We will consider a short-term CR no later than the week of Sept. 19, and it is expected to take us through late fall,” a leadership aide said.

Aides said a final verdict on disaster funding won’t be made until the White House provides a formal request to the House and Senate.

Although pushing a final CR fight until the fall will mean yet another difficult vote on federal spending for Republicans, it does provide leadership with the time it needs to convince Members that a message focused on job creation is more salient than one of continued spending cuts.

“We will be trying to emphasize jobs over shutdowns,” a senior GOP aide said Tuesday. Several colleagues agreed, explaining that leadership wants to stick to the level of cuts included in the debt deal, rather than the more drastic reductions that are part of Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget.

But that might be easier said than done. The House has already passed a number of appropriations measures based on Ryan’s budget levels, and using the debt deal’s levels would essentially mean Republicans would be voting for a second, larger spending number in those programs.

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