House Battle Looms over Disaster Relief. When Did That Become Partisan?

Article excerpt

In the Senate, the GOP broke ranks and a nearly $7 billion disaster relief bill was passed. But House Republicans are proposing $3.7 billion and seeking cuts elsewhere. Even a shutdown is possible.

Senate Republicans broke ranks this week, allowing Democrats to pass a nearly $7 billion bill to shore up federal disaster relief and setting up a battle with the House and even the prospect of a government shutdown.

Between hurricanes, floods, wildfires, blizzards, tornadoes, and a rare East Coast earthquake, the US has declared disaster areas in all but two states this year alone, and the funds to sustain recovery efforts are running out.

In past years, Congress would have dubbed such disasters an emergency - a label that exempts spending from budgetary constraints - and paid for it on credit. But the GOP takeover of the House in 2011 and an ongoing tea party insurgency have sharpened partisan differences even on an issue as traditionally bipartisan as disaster relief.

House Republicans are proposing $3.7 billion in disaster aid, with the first $1 billion to be offset by cutting a loan guarantee program for more fuel-efficient cars. Democrats oppose both the strategy of requiring offsets for emergency disaster relief - a standard they say that Republicans did not apply to funding wars in Iraq or Afghanistan - and the choice of an alternative energy program to take the hit.

The measure now faces a full House vote next week, as part of an interim spending bill to fund government for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins on Oct. 1. Without this continuing resolution, the government would be forced to shut down.

With Congress still reeling from bitter fights over FY 2011 spending and over raising the national debt limit in the spring and summer, leaders have been discounting the prospect of another near- shutdown this fall. But neither side counted on the deep ideological divisions between parties and within the GOP on spending to also apply to disaster relief. …


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