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Stand-Alone Disaster Bill Comes Up Short in Senate

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid failed to win the 60 votes needed to take up a House-passed bill that he wanted to use as the vehicle for emergency disaster relief.

The Nevada Democrat sought to provide $7 billion in disaster funding and said on the Senate floor that the money is urgently needed, arguing that emergencies have been declared in 48 states.

The Majority Leader fell seven votes shy of the 60 needed to proceed to the measure, picking up six Republicans. But 14 Senators did not vote, including six Democrats.

Two Republicans who did not vote — Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison from Texas, which is battling wildfires, and Sen. John Hoeven from North Dakota, which has suffered flooding — might have been candidates to vote to take up the bill.

The likely vehicle for the funding is now expected to be the continuing resolution for fiscal 2012 funding. House GOP leaders intend to include disaster spending in the CR they plan to put on the House floor next week.

Reid before the vote said that he was concerned that House Republican leaders would not provide adequate funding and may seek to offset it.

Senate Budget ranking member Jeff Sessions said he believes the Senate should not provide the spending before getting expert advice on the precise need.

“We haven’t carefully examined every penny of it,” the Alabama Republican said.

“I come from a state that has suffered,” he added. “I know we are going to need spending. But how much more do we need … I don’t know yet. I would like to have an expert look into it before we approve another $7 billion.”

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins voted to proceed to the bill and said she would like as much of the disaster spending paid for as possible.

But the Maine Republican acknowledged that disaster spending has not typically been offset.

“I would like to make sure that the amount of money being requested isn’t just a figure plucked out of the air, but based in a serious and realistic analysis of what the needs are,” Collins said.

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