The Senate has agreed to proceed with consideration of a bill designed to provide billions in additional funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund, as Republicans from disaster stricken states joined Democrats in advancing the measure .
The chamber voted to proceed on a 61 to 38 vote on a bill dealing with Burmese sanctions. Democrats have said they will that bill as a vehicle for a $7 billion aid package for FEMA, where disaster relief dollars have been drying up as the end of the fiscal year approaches Sept. 30.
The vote came even though Republicans had blocked a similar measure only last night and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday that an emergency supplemental FEMA measure was ‘not necessary.”
He said dollars for the agency could be wrapped into a broader continuing funding resolution to be considered by both chambers later this month.
“Turning to that subject right now is really not necessary,” McConnell said. “It’ll be resolved before the end of the month. Resolved in a responsible way before the end of the month.”
But Democrats have been anxious to force a quick vote on the issue, eager to make Republicans choose between supporting higher FEMA spending without offsetting cuts or voting against disaster relief dollars, even while thousands continue to reel from major recent disasters.
“This week Republicans sent a message to victims of devastating hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes: tough luck,” said Senate Maj. Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) in response to the Republican vote on Monday.
The pressure apparently worked.
By Tuesday, as eight Republicans joined Democrats in advancing the measure. They included Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.), who had voted to block the measure Monday, but whose state has been hit hard by Irene. The Senate must still formally amend the measure with the FEMA funding Wednesday night. Republicans could block the measure then by denying the measure a 60 vote supermajority. The bill is on track for a vote on final passage on Friday.
The White House has said that FEMA, which has responded to repeated major disasters this year, including Hurricane Irene and forest fires in Texas in recent weeks, needs $500 million more to get through the month.
The disaster relief fund, which provides dollars to local governments and individuals to repair disaster damage, needs $5.1 billion for the next fiscal year, the administration says.