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Reidís Disaster Aid Package Passes Senate
Friday, September 16, 2011

Sept. 15, 2011 Ė Updated 5:49 p.m.

Reidís Disaster Aid Package Passes Senate

By Niels Lesniewski, CQ Staff

A spending package for disaster relief narrowly won Senate passage Thursday, after overcoming objections that had delayed action on it earlier in the week.

The Senate adopted, 62-37, Majority Leader Harry Reidís $6.9 billion disaster aid measure. The vote came after the chamber rejected two GOP proposals to offset the cost of the funding, which Reidís legislation designates as emergency spending.

Under an agreement that paved the way for final action, each of the amendments ó including Reidís proposal ó required 60 votes for adoption. After signing off on Reidís measure, the Senate passed the underlying legislation (H J Res 66) by unanimous consent.

Ten Republicans voted in favor of Reidís aid package, including Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt. Earlier this year, tornadoes devastated Joplin, Mo., and the budget shortfall at the Federal Emergency Management Agency has forced the government to delay funding for rebuilding projects there.

ďThese farm families [need] to get back to work, these factory workers [need] to see the factory doors open again, and I am supportive of this effort,Ē Blunt said.

The highlight of Reidís proposal is $5.1 billion in funding for FEMAís Disaster Relief Fund. Of that, $500 million would be available immediately, in line with a supplemental appropriations request the White House sent to Capitol Hill last week.

The rest of the money is for disaster assistance and recovery funding for other departments and agencies that have seen their coffers dwindle because of the preponderance of disasters this year. This includes $266 million for emergency programs administered by the Department of Agriculture. Much of the recent flooding in the northeast devastated farmland, and lawmakers including New York Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand have pushed for agricultural aid.

The legislative language of Reidís proposal came in the form of a substitute amendment to an unrelated measure that would renew another year of sanctions against the military junta in Myanmar.

Offset Proposals

Before signing off on the aid package, senators rejected a pair of Republican amendments that tested the Senateís position on designating disaster relief spending as an emergency requirement, without offsetting spending cuts. Each GOP proposal fell short of the 60 votes needed for adoption.

The Senate turned back, 54-45, Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburnís proposal to pay for the disaster funding through the savings from termination of duplicative federal programs.

ďWe know we have plenty of areas that we can cut now that are not effective, not efficient, that are wasteful, that are duplicative, and we would not have to borrow that additional money,Ē Coburn said.

Coburnís amendment would direct the Office of Management and Budget to use the results of a Government Accountability Office report that found areas of overlapping government programs to find about $7 billion in spending offsets. The Senate adopted a similar amendment to a small-business research bill (S 493) in April. That bill ultimately stalled on the floor.

The other GOP amendment was offered by Kentuckyís Rand Paul, who wants to pay for the disaster assistance by rescinding fiscal 2011 funds for the U.S. Agency for International Development and the State Department. Paul argues that foreign aid programs should be reduced to pay for urgent priorities back in the United States. The Senate rebuffed Paulís proposal, 20-78.

Myanmar Provisions

Reidís substitute amendment includes the language in the underlying legislation to extend the trade sanctions on Myanmar, still commonly known as Burma. The sanctions, initially enacted July 28, 2003 (PL 108-61), expire annually unless Congress renews them.

The House version of a fiscal 2012 continuing appropriations resolution (H J Res 79) that is expected to be the legislative vehicle for final enactment of disaster relief funding also contains the Myanmar sanctions text.

First posted Sept. 15, 2011 2:45 p.m.

Source: CQ Today Online News

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