House rejects bill with disaster aid
GOP required cuts to fund relief efforts
WASHINGTON – The threat of a government shutdown intensified as the House surprised its Republican leadership and rejected a bill to fund the government that required cuts in programs to pay for aid for victims of Hurricane Irene and other disasters.
The legislation was narrowly defeated Wednesday after a tense afternoon of vote counting. Conservatives voted against the bill because they thought its spending level was too high and Democrats rejected it because of the requirement for cuts.
The spending bill is needed to keep the government running through Nov. 18; current spending authority stops at the end of September.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, had hoped to avoid another budget battle in the wake of the summer’s debt-ceiling fight and a near shutdown of the government in April that caused voters to sour on both Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
The rebuke gives new currency to Senate Democrats’ efforts to fund disaster aid without cuts elsewhere. Congress has just days to resolve the impasse as lawmakers are expected to recess Friday for next week’s Jewish holiday.
“They’re threatening to shut down the government to get what they want,” Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the majority leader, said about the GOP-led House.
House Republican leaders huddled late Wednesday to consider their options. It is unlikely they will be able to persuade their right flank to support a bill with spending levels higher than they want. Instead, Boehner will likely be forced to rely on Democrats for votes.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the rejection of the Republican approach leaves the GOP leaders few options.
“Now it’s time to pass the Senate disaster aid bill,” she said in a Twitter post.
Disaster funding typically draws bipartisan support, but this year Republican leaders insisted that any supplemental emergency funds be offset by spending cuts.
After a year of floods, tornadoes and recent hurricanes and wildfires, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster fund is about to run out – as soon as Monday. Already, FEMA has prioritized its remaining resources to provide immediate food, water and debris removal for recent disasters, while longer-term building projects are on hold.
To pay for additional aid needed to cover victims of Hurricane Irene and other recent disasters, the House bill targeted a loan program for alternative energy vehicle manufacturing. Democrats opposed cutting funds for the program because they said it was on the forefront of creating green jobs.
“It’s with great sadness that we even have to have a debate about it,” Pelosi said on the floor.