In a harsh attack reminiscent of the budget fights of two years ago, President Clinton on Saturday accused the Republican Congress of an “unconscionable” failure for taking a spring vacation without voting on billions of dollars of relief for flood-soaked states.
“Without taking action, Congress left town, and our people were left in the lurch,” the president said in his weekly radio address.
Clinton urged Congress to act immediately, although he stopped short of an explicit appeal for lawmakers to return from their 10-day break. “Disaster doesn’t take a holiday,” he said.
Both parties agree on the need for disaster relief, but the legislation providing for it has become bogged down in bickering over unrelated measures.
Republicans argue that even without the legislation, federal emergency officials already have at least $2 billion in the pipeline to help flood victims, which should sustain relief efforts through at least midsummer.
Clinton was wading Saturday into a legislative battle over $5.5 billion in emergency disaster relief for 33 states, from Minnesota to California. The legislation containing the relief money became encrusted in recent days with dozens of unrelated provisions, as members of Congress attached their cherished programs to the bill, believing it to be must-pass legislation.
While the White House opposes several of those measures, the chief sticking point is an effort by Republicans to use the disaster relief package to prevent future government shutdowns and the political harm they can cause.
Conservative Republicans insisted that any emergency spending legislation include a provision intended to prevent such shutdowns during budget fights. The provision would automatically set spending at this year’s levels if regular appropriations bills were not approved by the start of the fiscal year Oct. 1.
Clinton and congressional Democrats oppose that step, contending that in practice, such a freeze would cut education and social spending, for which the president just won increases in the budget deal.
Clinton has vowed to veto any bill that included the spending measure.