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Disaster Aid Funds Fuel Fight

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is blaming Republicans for a looming showdown over disaster aid funding. Reid said today that he couldn’t be sure that Congress would act in time to prevent a government shutdown.

Senate Democrats contend that the $3.6 billion disaster level is inadequate, they oppose the ATVM offset, and they argue that House Republicans are reneging on the August debt ceiling agreement, which provided a cushion of about $11 billion for emergency spending.

Reid intends to try to amend the House CR with legislation passed by the Senate last week that would provide nearly $7 billion for disaster aid.

But it’s unclear whether Reid will have the votes to add the Senate disaster package. Last week, 10 GOP Senators voted with Democrats to pass the measure 62-37. But at least three of those Republicans — Sens. Roy Blunt (Mo.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — said today that they were undecided. Reid can only lose two votes and still be able to secure the 60 votes needed to clear any attempted filibusters.

“This week, I am hopeful that we will see the same Senators vote for a bill to keep the government running and avoid the kind of political brinksmanship that marked this vote last time around,” Reid said. “The money provided in the House bill would fund FEMA for just a few weeks, not months. It certainly won’t go into next year.”

His comments come as 48 states have experienced disasters this year, and FEMA is running low on funds. FEMA now only provides aid for immediate disasters and has halted the rebuilding of areas damaged by past disasters.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said that there is a backlog of thousands of projects that are on hold.

“Right now people need help,” Landrieu said, adding that she is puzzled at House Republicans’ position because the deal to raise the debt ceiling allows Congress to provide about $11 billion over spending caps for disasters.

“We are asking to use $6.9 of that $11 billion,” Landrieu said. “So you have to ask yourself, ‘Why are they doing this?’”

Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) warned that the proposed House offset would hurt job creation.

“It’s outrageous that House Republicans are pushing a plan that would gut an initiative proven to create thousands of jobs in Michigan and across the country, and that they are trying to ram it through by attaching it to disaster relief,” Stabenow said in a release. “These loans have helped our businesses transform abandoned factories to build new high-tech products here at home instead of overseas. Congress should cut waste and government programs that don’t work, not end incentives that help businesses keep jobs in America.”

Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he hopes the 10 GOP Senators vote for their constituents rather than their party.

“I think changing your vote always looks bad and I don’t see how it could be justified here,” Levin said. “This is an extremely important jobs provision.”

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