Congress poised to avert government shutdown

Harry Reid and John Boehner over FEMA logo with cash
Harry Reid and John Boehner
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., left, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, right.

Updated: 7:58 p.m. ET

The Senate on Monday passed a stopgap spending measure that will fund government agencies beyond September 30th and avert a government shutdown.

The Senate passed two bills on Monday night.  One funds the government through November 18th and passed with a vote of 79-12.  It will eliminate $1 billion worth of disaster aid, as well as $1 billion in offsets from an EPA loan guarantee program for green cars. 

The second bill funds the government through Tuesday, October 4. The House, which is currently on recess, is expected to approve the Continuing Resolution that funds the government through Tuesday via a voice vote this week. That gives House Speaker John Boehner two days when the House returns next week to pass the Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded through November 18.

An agreement was reached after FEMA made it clear on Monday that it could potentially sustain itself financially through the end of the week.

In debate over the amended legislation on the Senate floor Monday evening, Reid called the compromise "a win for everyone."

"This compromise should satisfy Republicans...and it should satisfy Democrats," he said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., added that the deal was a "reasonable way to keep the government operational."

FEMA spokesperson Rachel Racusen warned in a statement Monday that if FEMA does run out of money, all disaster recovery and assistance operations currently underway would be shut down.

"If Congress does allow the balance of the Disaster Relief Fund to reach zero, there are laws that govern federal agency operations in the absence of funding," Racusen said. "Under law, FEMA would be forced to temporarily shut down disaster recovery and assistance operations, including financial assistance to individuals until Congress appropriated more funds. This would include all past and current FEMA recovery operations."

According to FEMA, the agency currently has about $114 million to get them through the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. Reid, however, said in comments on the Senate floor that he had been assured by Budget Director Jacob Lew that FEMA would be able to operate without additional funding through the end of the week.

In a press conference after the vote, Reid said that providing relief for disaster victims "has always been and should be above politics."

"We should never have to choose between American jobs and aiding disaster victims," he said, adding his hope  that the House return from its "little break" to "complete this work as fast as it can."  

Earlier on Monday, Reid expressed frustration regarding the absence of House lawmakers in Washington.

"It's real hard to negotiate with people who aren't here," he said. "It's hard to legislate when one part of our bicameral legislature is not here."