As prospects in the Senate for a Democratic-authored stopgap funding measure designed to keep the government operating when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30 appeared bleak, a new possible resolution to the stalemate emerged Monday as the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the disaster relief dollars that have been at the heart of the Congressional dispute may not be exhausted until Friday.
If the agency could husband dollars through the end of the week--which is also the conclusion of the federal government’s fiscal year--it might allow the House and Senate to set aside a fight over whether dollars both had thought were needed to help FEMA pay its bills before the year ended need to be matched with spending cuts elsewhere.
Neither side will focus on the new developments from FEMA until the conclusion of a Senate vote slated for 5:30 p.m. this evening on the Democrats’ bill.
That version of the bill would keep the government running through Nov. 18. It includes $1 billion for disaster relief to help FEMA pay its bills through the end of the week, as well as $2.65 billion in disaster dollars for the year that begins Saturday.
That $3.65 billion spending level represents the amount House Republicans have urged--Senate Democrats have said more is needed. But the Senate bill does not offset the spending with $1.6 billion in cuts elsewhere, as the GOP has also demanded.
The temporary spending bill is necessary because the House and Senate have failed to agree on measures to outline spending for all of government the remainder of the year. The legislation would fund government at a rate of $1.043 trillion for the year and is a temporary stopgap designed to allow time for negotiations over the rest of the year to continue.
If Congress cannot approve a spending measure by the end of the week, the government will shutdown.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears unlikely to garner enough Republican support to nab the 60 votes necessary to actually advance his version of the bill.
To get to 60, Reid will need Republicans to buck their party’s leadership and support his version of the bill. Democrats argue they should get the votes of ten Republicans who recently backed a separate Senate bill with $6.9 billion for disaster relief without offsets.
“A number of Republicans have come up to me this morning and said they want to do the right thing and fund disaster relief. Many of them are from states that are suffering, and they know that FEMA will run out of money, and those states will be high and dry,” Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week.
But several of those Republicans have been noncommittal about how they will vote and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) incidated Friday that he was confident his members would not support Reid’s bill.
If the Reid’s version fails, leaders on both sides are likely to focus more closely on the new information from FEMA. If satisfied that FEMA does not need dollars immediately, it is possible the two sides could agree to drop the $1 billion in immediate funding as well as the $1.5 billion spending cut.
The could give both sides an exit strategy out of their dispute that would sidestep the central fight.
It was not immediately clear Monday if Houw Republicans would find that resolution acceptable. Aides said they were still assessing the issue.
If the new news from FEMA does not form a resolution and the Senate measure fails, both sides would would return a familiar game of congressional chicken, in which each side hopes the ticking clock results in the other dropping its demands.
Increasing the stakes is the fact that the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday at sundown, creating incentive to find a solution by mid-week.
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