The Washington Post

Disaster relief could complicate short-term funding measure

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) (2nd L) leaves the office of House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) after a visit July 28, 2011 at the Capitol in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/GETTY IMAGES)

House Republicans late Wednesday introduced a short-term funding measure to keep the government running through mid-November. It appears designed to avoid the threat of a bitter partisan battle that could lead to a shutdown.

But an ongoing dispute over disaster relief funding could complicate efforts for the measure’s easy passage in the Democratic-held Senate.

The continuing resolution is necessary because the House and Senate have failed to come to agreement on a series of 12 measures that appropriate dollars for different areas of the government when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

The bill would provide dollars to keep the government open until Nov. 18 and is intended to allow agencies to keep functioning as the House and Senate continue negotiations over spending for the remainder of 2012 fiscal year.

Republicans propose funding the government at a rate of $1.043 trillion for the fiscal year. The number represents the cap on spending imposed in the August deal that allowed the debt ceiling to rise.

It is far less that President Obama had recommended in his budget, but cuts only $7 billion, far less than many conservatives would prefer.

By accepting that level of spending — and not pushing for a deeper cut — Republicans are abiding by the terms of the August deal and appear eager to avoid a rancorous budget fight like that one that nearly shuttered the government in April.

“By preventing a government shutdown and once again cutting spending below last year’s levels, this bill gives Congress more time to complete work on legislation that stops the Washington spending binge and provides more certainty for job creators,” House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), who earlier Wednesday had called “head scratching” the rumors Republicans might push for a lower spending level in the short-term measure, praised the House for agreeing to the number.

“It is wise of the House Republicans to not try to relitigate the agreement from August,” he said. “The public doesn’t want to see any more brinksmanship on the budget.”

But problems could still arise because the measure includes less money for disaster relief than Democrats want. It also seeks to offset some dollars for disaster cleanup from a program to spur the development of energy efficient cars.

The House measure includes $3.65 billion in disaster relief funds, $1 billion that would become available immediately to cover pending needs and $2.65 billion for the 2012 fiscal year. Of the immediate dollars, $226 million would be earmarked for the Army Corps of Engineers flood control efforts and $776 million to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s severely depleted disaster relief fund.

The White House has said $5.1 billion is needed for disaster relief efforts, $500 million now and $4.6 billion for rest the 2012 fiscal year. And the Senate is this week considering a separate measure to provide $7 billion in disaster funding.

Senators have charged that House Republicans are skimping on relief efforts, even as thousands still struggle with the impact of deadly tornadoes, fires and Hurricane Irene.

House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said in a statement that a delay in the measure’s passage would not deserve to block the desperately needed disaster aide.

“The American people simply do not want or deserve — and our recovering economy can scarcely handle — the dangerous instability of a government shutdown, or any unnecessary holdups in disaster recovery efforts,” he said.

Rosalind Helderman is a political enterprise and investigations reporter for the Washington Post.

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