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FEMA Gives Senate Democrats Breathing Room on CR

Updated: 3:30 p.m.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency may be able to make it through the end of the fiscal year Friday without needing an additional infusion of cash from Congress — a situation that gives Senate Democrats more room to try to force a compromise on federal spending with House Republicans.

Senate Democratic leadership aides said today that they believe FEMA’s disaster relief fund could remain flush through about Thursday and that FEMA could probably find funds to cover about $30 million for Friday.

Other Congressional sources also said FEMA could possibly make it through Friday. Last week, Members estimated FEMA would run out of funds Tuesday. The entire federal government will exhaust its funding Friday, meaning Congress must pass a continuing resolution or face a government shutdown.

The FEMA disaster relief fund has a total of $114 million as of today, and the agency is spending funds at a rate of at least $30 million a day, “but they might be able to shake the cushions and come up extra to get them through the week,” an aide said.

The White House Office of Management and Budget may come out with a letter today confirming FEMA’s solvency.

The aides’ comments come as House Republicans and Senate Democrats have been at odds over offsetting FEMA disaster funding as part of a CR that would fund the government through Nov. 18.

The House last week passed a continuing resolution that would offset about $1.1 billion of the $3.6 billion in FEMA funding provided in the bill.

The Senate Democrats oppose offsetting any of the FEMA funding because it politicizes the process and ultimately delays getting funding to victims as lawmakers wrangle over the programs that get cut.

The Senate Democrats are now hoping that Republicans would be willing to pass the CR without offsets because FEMA would not need any funding before the fiscal year ends. The $1.1 billion in offsets were targeted to paying for $1 billion that the agency was expected to need in fiscal 2011.

But it is unclear whether House Republicans will go along.

Either way, the Senate is set to vote at 5:30 p.m. today on a CR that is identical to the House-passed bill except it does not offset any of the disaster funding. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will need 60 votes to overcome procedural roadblocks erected by Republicans.

Republicans remain angry at Democrats, particularly those in the House, for abruptly backing out of their deal to pass the CR last week in order to force divisions within the House GOP Conference to the surface. Although Democrats had hoped Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) would negotiate a new bipartisan deal on the CR after he was unable to pass the bill without their support, he instead was able to use Wednesday’s defeat of the CR to motivate a handful of conservatives to switch votes.

For now, House Republicans are continuing to hold the line.

“If Reid doesn’t pass the House bill tonight, he will be responsible for a government shutdown, period,” one GOP aide said today.

Still, aides on both sides of the aisle predicted that if Reid is able to pass a truly clean CR that meets the requirements of the deal that he cut with Republicans in August, the House could end up passing that bill and punting on a supplemental FEMA fight until later this year.

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