Sensing an advantage after some Republicans claimed disaster relief funding should be offset with cuts to other programs, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will hold a vote on a clean, stand-alone, $6 billion disaster relief bill.
“We need to get this relief funding to the American people as quickly as we can, and we’re going to do that — I’m going to bring a free-standing bill, and we’re going to have a chance to vote on it,” Reid told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing Wednesday. “Some of my Republican colleagues are trying to — I was going to say something that was vulgar and I’m not going to do that — are trying to cater to the Tea Party by holding up relief efforts.”
Reid singled out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) who was an early, vocal advocate for offsetting. I put in a request for comment on Reid’s specific plan with Cantor’s office, but it’s worth pointing out that Cantor addressed this to some extent earlier Wednesday. “I am for making sure people get their money [and] that there will be no hold up,” he told reporters.
That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal. To address the hurricane damage along the eastern seaboard and the destruction of the town of Joplin, MO, among other disasters Reid will pull the $6 billion called for in the Senate’s DHS appropriations bill and bring it to the floor as an emergency supplemental, but he’s a step ahead of the administration. The White House said it will ask for an additional disaster relief funding for Irene and other disasters, though it’s not clear whether the White House thinks those funds will be necessary before the fiscal year ends on September 30. Republicans could oppose an emergency supplemental on the grounds that it should be dealt with in the normal appropriations process. Cantor told reporters Wednesday he expects to extend federal funding before it lapses through late fall and disaster funds could be re-upped in that legislation.
“In Joplin, MO, FEMA is basically broke and the money has now been shifted to Irene and Lee — emergencies that are happening as we speak,” Reid said. “They’ve withdrawn the long-term fund Joplin, MO was counting on for rebuilding schools, communities.”
Late update: Cantor’s response calls Reid’s request unprecedented, but leaves the door open to letting the funds pass.
The House stands ready to provide any immediate funding needed by those coping with the recent earthquake in Virginia, Hurricane Irene, the tornados in Joplin, the fires and droughts in Texas and other disasters. The House will act on a request for such disaster assistance as soon as it is made by President Obama. Though details remain vague, it is being reported that Majority Leader Reid plans to move an unprecedented standalone measure that includes up to $7 billion in FEMA disaster funds for next year in the coming weeks. I would ask Leader Reid to provide members of the House with the details of his request and a breakdown of what immediate funding is needed for each of the specific disaster areas listed above, so that the House can appropriately act on any legislation passed by the Senate. I appreciate Leader Reid’s concern for the people of my district and those facing these terrible disasters across the country, and hope we can work quickly and responsibly to provide any funding needed immediately, as well as to navigate through the appropriations process for the coming year.
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Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.