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Government shutdown avoided after disaster relief vote

The Senate voted to fund the government through Nov. 18, after the latest stand-off between House Republicans and Democrats over disaster relief.

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She called that "the Cantor doctrine" and said the controversy "could have been avoided if Cantor had just said, 'I'm sorry, but I made a mistake.' But instead of saying that, he doubled down," she said.

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Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for Cantor, responded that the Virginia Republican had "never said the things she alleged, he has only suggested that we ought to provide disaster aid dollars to those who need them in a responsible way — something that she's voted to block despite the urgent need."

In fact, House Republicans insisted that any new disaster aid for the expiring budget year be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget, a decision that Democrats seized on in hopes of reshaping the political terrain to their advantage.

Because the House is on a one-week break, it was not immediately clear how the legislation would be cleared for President Barack Obama's signature.

Among the options are passage of a temporary funding measure, to be passed in a brief session of the House planned for Thursday, that would keep government agencies in funds until lawmakers return on Oct. 4. The Senate approved the bill without objections.

Alternatively, GOP leaders could call the full House back into session this week for a vote.

Either way, the agreement assures funding until Nov. 18.

FEMA spokeswoman Rachel Racusen, said the agency had $114 million left in its disaster relief fund, enough to last until Thursday or Friday, the final business day of the current budget year. She said the exact timing would depend on the number of emergency victims who apply foraid, and whether any new disasters occur.

FEMA officials had said previously the funds would run out early this week. That concern prompted the Obama administration a few weeks ago to ask Congress to approve a replenishment to tide the agency over through the Sept. 30 end to the fiscal year.

House Republicans agreed weeks ago to provide $1 billion and include the money in a bill that also provides money for most federal agencies for the first few weeks of the 2012 budget year. At the same time, they insisted on cutting spending elsewhere in the budget by $1.5 billion to prevent the deficit from rising, an amount later raised to $1.6 billion.

That, in turn, produced a quick attack from Senate Democrats, who opposed cuts.

While it was unclear precisely how long FEMA's remaining funds would last, one official said the agency began conserving funds last month as Hurricane Irene approached the U.S. mainland, prioritizing its aid to help individual disaster victims and pay states and local governments for immediate needs such as removing debris and building sand bag barricades.

Funding of $450 million has been put on hold for longer-term needs such as reconstruction of damaged roads, the official said. In addition, the agency has been able to reclaim unused money from past disasters, according to the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing lack of authority to discuss the matter publicly.

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