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Senate Strikes Deal on CR, Disaster Funding

Updated: 10:51 p.m.

Senators signed off today on a deal that would avert the possibility of a government shutdown at the end of the week, and it appeared House Republican leaders are set to go along.

The Senate passed a measure, 79-12, that would fund the government through Nov. 18 and includes $2.6 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief for fiscal 2012. The Senate separately passed a short-term CR through Oct. 4 by voice vote to give the House time to consider the longer bill.

The House is on a weeklong recess and is scheduled to be back in session Oct. 3. But a pro forma session is scheduled for Thursday during which the chamber could clear the short-term measure by unanimous consent.

Passage of the measure came after the Senate rejected a bid by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that would have provided $3.6 billion for FEMA, including $1 billion in emergency funding for fiscal 2011, and had none of the offsets included in a House CR passed last week.

Reid said on the Senate floor that FEMA’s finances were not as dire as previously supposed, giving lawmakers more time to act on emergency funding for the agency.

Under the House-passed CR, the $1 billion in FEMA funds that were targeted for fiscal 2011 would have been offset by cuts to two programs designed to subsidize alternative energy technology.

But now lawmakers believe that FEMA will make it through the end of Friday, the last day of the fiscal year, without needing an infusion of cash from the government. That is different from what Republicans and Democrats said last week.

The Senate recently passed a separate bill that would have provided $6.9 billion for FEMA.

Senate Democrats oppose offsetting emergency spending and have argued that it politicizes the process and ultimately delays getting funding to victims as lawmakers wrangle over which programs to cut.

“We don’t scramble to find offsets when a drought or a famine hits in some part of Africa,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said. “Yet our people are calling for help at home.”

In the case of the House CR, Senate Democrats oppose the $1.5 billion cut to the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing loan program. The ATVM program is intended to help the auto industry pay to retool or expand factories to produce fuel-efficient technology.

The House CR also includes a $100 million cut to a DOE program that provided more than $500 million in loans to Solyndra, a California-based solar panel maker that is now bankrupt and under investigation. Republicans have accused the White House of improperly directing preferential treatment to the firm. The two cuts together translate to a $1.1 billion offset.

During debate on the Senate floor, Democrats did all they could to blame Republicans for the impasse, particularly House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and other Members aligned with the conservative tea party movement.

Republicans said it is Democrats putting politics ahead of coping with disasters by blocking much-needed FEMA funds and threatening a government shutdown, then blaming the very people who passed legislation that would accomplish both. They urged Senate Democrats to pass the bill the House passed last week.

Reid called the measure that passed the “Johnny Isakson solution,” trying to sell the idea as a bipartisan move backed by the Georgia Republican.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went along with the deal while stressing that he would have much preferred to pass the House bill.

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