FEMA funding showdown brewing in Congress

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nev., left, listens as Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin of Ill. tells reporters that they are moving ahead with a Democratic plan to trim the deficit and avert a debilitating default, Friday, July 29, 2011, on Capitol Hill in Washington.
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Harry Reid, Dick Durbin
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

Updated at 4:05 p.m. ET

Congress is headed for a showdown over disaster relief funding that could bring the government to the brink of a government shutdown again.

House Speaker John Boehner has scheduled a vote tomorrow on a bill that would keep the government operating through Nov. 18. If the Senate and the House do not approve the stopgap measure, known as a continuing resolution, before the fiscal year ends Sept 30, the government would be forced to shutdown.

The House bill includes $1 billion in immediate funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $2.65 billion for next year, but the Republican measure also includes a provision to offset the FEMA funds with cuts to the Energy Department's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program.

That offset has Democrats up in arms, CBS News Capitol Hill Producer Jill Jackson reports. They say it's a dangerous precedent to offset disaster relief funding, and they say revoking funding for the vehicle manufacturing program will hinder job growth in that field.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that the Senate would vote on its own, much larger, FEMA funding measure instead of the House version.

"I was disappointed to see the House short-changed the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and it is a real, real short-change," Reid said on the Senate floor today.

The Senate last week passed a bill to replenish FEMA's disaster relief funding with nearly $7 billion. Reid said today that he'll amend the House's continuing resolution legislation when it gets to the Senate later this week, to replace the House FEMA funding provision with the Senate version.

Reid noted that following Hurricane Irene and several other costly natural disasters across the country, President Obama has declared a state of disaster in all but two states. "FEMA is quickly running out of money to help American families and communities recover," he said.

FEMA officials have said that its disaster fund is quickly depleting and could run out by the end of the fiscal year.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., also said today that the continuing resolution should pass without the GOP offsets. "The Republicans $1.5 billion cut in the Advanced Manufacturing Technology initiative is counterproductive to the growth of jobs," he said. "We think they're making a mistake."

By putting their version of the FEMA funding bill on the continuing resolution, House Republicans are betting that Democrats will go along with it for the sake of avoiding a government shutdown. So far, though Reid appears to be standing his grown.

Lawmakers have just a matter of days to come to an agreement on the issue -- both the House and the Senate are schedule to be in recess next week, making Friday the last day to pass a continuing resolution before risking a government shutdown on Sept. 30.

Update: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said today that the continuing resolution will pass in the House, but if it fails in the Senate, "it will be on leader Reid's shoulders because he's the one playing politics with it."

"No one wants to stand in the way of disaster relief moneys that are needed," Cantor continued. "There's nothing else but politics going on with that move if that's what happens."

Republican Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., added that the House does not have the votes to pass the funding measure if Reid sends it back to the House with disaster funding that is not offset. "Listen, from understanding the floor the votes, if Reid does what he does, I don't see the votes on the floor for it," he said. "So he's holding up the ability for individuals to get the relief."

Cantor would not commit to keeping the House in session past Friday if the Senate and House have not passed a funding bill to avert a government shutdown.

Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., insisted Tuesday that there won't be a government shutdown, and FEMA will receive the needed funding, though he could not say how Congress will work out the differences.

"Congress always responds appropriately to disasters," he said. "We're having a discussion about the appropriate way to do that, and I'm confident it'll be resolved"