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Senate to vote, again, on bill to fund government, disaster aid

The Senate is set to vote late Monday on a spending bill to keep government running. This one, like a version rejected Friday, does not resolve the sticking point: how to pay for new disaster aid.

By Staff writer / September 26, 2011

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev. (r.) accompanied by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Md. gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington on Friday, to discuss the continuing resolution to keep the government open.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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Washington

The Senate returns Monday for a late-afternoon vote on a stop-gap spending measure to fund government operations, including a compromise proposal on federal disaster assistance.

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If the measure fails in either house, a government shutdown is possible by week’s end. And even if it passes, the compromise may be too late to stop federal disaster funds from running out after Tuesday.

This is the third time since Republicans took control of the House in January that lawmakers are staring at a possible government shutdown. But unlike the previous two cases – a dispute last spring over $100 billion in fiscal 2011 spending and a battle over the summer about adding $2.7 trillion to the national debt – this standoff almost ranks as a rounding error.

“Suddenly, a bill that nobody should notice becomes another crisis,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University.

At issue is $1.6 billion of disaster relief – a tiny sum in the grand scheme of federal spending – that both Republicans and Democrats agree is essential. The dispute is over when and how to pay for it.

To recap: A new fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Congress has yet to pass a single spending bill for FY 2012. Unless Congress acts by Sept. 30, the government must shut down all but essential services. The Senate on Friday rejected a House measure to fund government through Nov. 18, by a bipartisan vote of 59 to 36.

Now, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada has called the Senate back from a scheduled recess for Monday's procedural vote on a nearly identical bill. The Senate alternative adopts the House figure of $3.65 billion for emergency disaster assistance – less than Senate Democrats had wanted – but unlike the House bill it does not require offsetting cuts in spending to pay for that aid. It would simply be added to the national debt.

Democrats say offsets for such emergency spending are nearly unprecedented. But that's not all that riles them. The House GOP's choice of offsets – two clean-energy programs conspicuously backed by President Obama – is also sticking in their craw.

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