Some lawmakers from hard-hit states are unhappy with the compromise, saying that it would result in a slight delay in processing aid to victims, and that the overall total of FEMA funding wouldn’t be enough to account for the damage caused by the disasters.
“They would delay the process by punting back to the House,” said Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.). The deal “also stripped $1 billion in disaster relief and provides less emergency funding for Missourians in the wake of record flooding and tornadoes,” he added.
Explore recent votes from the Senate.
Ending weeks of political brinkmanship, Congress finessed a dispute over disaster aid Monday night and advanced legislation to avoid a partial government shutdown only days away. (Sept. 26)
The debate over the budget bill turned on sharp — and familiar — political lines that scuttled earlier talk that the two parties were going to tone down their attacks.
Republicans, particularly House conservatives, said they were unwilling to add to the federal deficit, even for disaster funding, and accused Democrats of overspending. Democrats used the debate to portray Republicans as “holding hostage” relief checks for those struck by tornadoes, flooding, forest fires and droughts, focusing much of their criticism on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R), who represents Mineral, Va., the epicenter of the earthquake.
Although the agreement lifts the imminent specter of a government shutdown, it will not resolve the fight over how much FEMA needs to help disaster victims and whether that money must be offset with spending cuts.
The White House has said FEMA will need $4.6 billion for the next fiscal year — a figure many Democrats say underestimates the agency’s needs.
Democrats will push to fully fund FEMA’s request and perhaps broaden it during negotiations over spending for the rest of the year, but they were split Monday over what the compromise would mean for future funding battles.
“This is a very big and important move. It says we met each other halfway. We saved the jobs,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), referring to the the auto loan program. “We figured out a way to fund FEMA that was acceptable to them. It’s a template. We have to figure out how to meet each other halfway here.”
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (Vt.), whose state was hit hard by flooding from Hurricane Irene, said the deal would solve the disaster issue — but only temporarily.
“I’m concerned about the fact that we give blank checks to Iraq and [Afghanistan] and we don’t want to take care of America for Americans,” he said. “It’s wrong, it’s foolish and it will come back to haunt us.”
Staff writer Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.