The Senate reached an agreement Monday night that looks like it will stave off a government shutdown. Democrats and Republicans had been bickering over funding for victims of natural disasters like the recent floods and earthquakes in the Lower 48. Republicans wouldn’t let the FEMA money go through unless it was paid for with cuts to a green technologies program. Democrats balked, saying that Energy Department program creates jobs, and that funds to disaster relief victims should not be held up.
The compromise brokered last night gives an infusion of money to FEMA at lower levels than Democrats wanted, but it doesn’t have the spending cuts Republicans pushed.
Alaska Democratic Senator Mark Begich says the disagreement over FEMA funds has dinged the public’s perception of Congress, which is already at record-low approval ratings. Begich says it makes no sense to fund rebuilding in Afghanistan and Iraq without requiring a pay-for, and yet make funding for needy Americans contingent on cuts.
“If your home gets hit by a tree and smashes it in, you don’t’ sit there while the rain is coming in thinking ok, can I buy that blue tarp or not, you go get it done, you take every means possible to protect and try to fix it as quickly as possible. Then you’ll have to deal with the consequences of the that action later, which means you’ll have to pay the bill. But while you’re waiting, you could sit and argue about it, flood your whole house out, and the next thing you know there’s more damage. Or you go fix it and then we have the debate,” Begich said.
Begich supported the compromise last night as did most of his colleagues, who voted 79 to 12.
Republican Lisa Murkowski missed the vote because of a long-planned trip to the village of Buckland – this week was slated to be a recess but Congress took its argument to the brink, screwing up travel schedules and plans.
“The House has not yet voted because it gaveled out Friday but it’s expected to give the Senate deal the green light, keeping federal agencies open and funding FEMA until Nov. 18. Without the deal, government would have shut down Saturday and FEMA anticipated running out of disaster relief money in a few days,” Murkowski said.
It looked like FEMA might run out of funds Tuesday, but the agency figured out it has enough to get through the week, which slightly lessened the partisan tension over whether to offset the needed money. But questions still loom about long term funding for FEMA and the debate over spending has for now been punted.
Congressman Don Young is already in Alaska and does not have to return to Washington this week – the House is expected to approve a funding extension by a voice vote that doesn’t require all members to be in the Chambers and then deal with the larger legislation next week.
Senator Begich got on a plane to Alaska on Tuesday. He’s scheduled to meet with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in Anchorage this week to talk over aviation and infrastructure.