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Reid’s Disaster Aid Package Passes Senate

Sep 16, 2011 | News & Views

CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS – CONGRESSIONAL AFFAIRS
Sept. 15, 2011 – Updated 5:49 p.m.

Reid’s 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 Reid’s
$6.9 billion disaster aid measure. The vote came after the chamber
rejected two GOP proposals to offset the cost of the funding, which
Reid’s legislation designates as emergency spending.
Under
an agreement that paved the way for final action, each of the
amendments — including Reid’s proposal — required 60 votes for adoption.
After signing off on Reid’s measure, the Senate passed the underlying
legislation (H J Res 66) by unanimous consent.
Ten Republicans voted in favor of Reid’s 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.
“These
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,” Blunt said.
The
highlight of Reid’s proposal is $5.1 billion in funding for FEMA’s
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 Reid’s 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 Senate’s 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 Coburn’s proposal to pay for the disaster funding through the savings from termination of duplicative federal programs.
“We
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,” Coburn said.
Coburn’s
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 Kentucky’s 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
Paul’s proposal, 20-78.
Myanmar Provisions

Reid’s
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.

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