Skip to content

Paul eyes floor votes on firefighter bill after committee spat

The Kentucky Republican walked out of a markup earlier this month after Democrats watered down his amendments

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., right, and ranking member Rand Paul, R-Ky., are shown at the panel's markup of the firefighter bill on March 15.
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., right, and ranking member Rand Paul, R-Ky., are shown at the panel's markup of the firefighter bill on March 15. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate this week will vote to begin debate on a bill to reauthorize federal grant programs for local fire departments, spending valuable floor time on bipartisan legislation most senators would prefer to pass by unanimous consent.

Sen. Rand Paul, ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee that has jurisdiction over the bill, is opposed to quick passage and is seeking amendments after his efforts to alter the bill in committee did not go as planned.

The Kentucky Republican walked out of the committee markup two weeks ago before the panel voted by voice vote to report a similar bill to the floor.

Both versions of the bill would reauthorize the U.S. Fire Administration and firefighter assistance grant programs for local departments through fiscal 2030. The measure authorizes a nearly $20 million annual boost for USFA’s budget over those seven years, bringing the total to $95 million per year. The grant programs would be flat funded.

During the committee markup, Paul offered amendments to block the funding from going to fire departments that fired employees over COVID-19 vaccine mandates or have associations with anyone in China that isn’t employed by the U.S. government. He also offered an amendment to require the Treasury Department to identify unobligated COVID-19 relief funds that could be transferred to the USFA to offset its proposed funding increase.

Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Gary Peters, D-Mich., offered second-degree amendments to water down Paul’s proposals so they wouldn’t tank support for the underlying bill. Those second-degree amendments were approved in party-line votes.

Paul was perturbed Democrats didn’t allow further debate on the merits of his proposals and decided to leave the committee markup before it was over.

“I, for one, won’t stay here — and would recommend that no Republican stay here — if we’re going to have third-degree amendments that only the majority gets to offer,” he said during the markup.

The panel then voted to advance the amended bill by voice vote. The next day, on March 16, Peters introduced an updated version of the bill that incorporated some of his second-degree amendments, including the altered language on China that would only bar funds from going to the Chinese government or entities incorporated in China. That version is the one going to the Senate floor.

Paul said in a brief interview Tuesday that he’s objecting to passing the bill by unanimous consent because he still wants up-or-down votes on his COVID-19 vaccine mandate and offset amendments.

“We think all spending should be paid for,” he said. “We also think that fire departments [that] could fire people for not being vaccinated should be ineligible for these grants. We may have some other issues too, but we’ll see. But at least those two we’ll bring up.”

Procedural vote

Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., filed cloture on the motion to proceed to the updated bill Monday, teeing up a vote to cut off debate on proceeding to the measure as soon as Wednesday. He said in floor remarks that the current grant programs will expire in a few months if Congress doesn’t act.

“Our firefighters, both paid and volunteer, are brave; they risk their lives for us, they run to danger, not away from it,” Schumer said. “And they need both equipment and personnel so that they can continue to do their jobs, particularly in smaller, more rural and more suburban areas where there’s not the tax base to support the stuff that they need. So, I hope we can move forward quickly on this legislation.”

Since the bill has bipartisan support it’s expected to get the 60 votes needed to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed. After adopting the motion to begin debate on the bill, senators can then debate the measure and any amendments offered.

Peters said he hopes the Senate can complete action on the bill this week, which would require cooperation from Paul. Although Peters said he would prefer the bill be passed without amendment, he acknowledged a time agreement needed to move the bill quickly would require giving Paul votes on his amendments.

“If he wants votes, we’ll have to have votes on them,” he said. “We’ll see what he offers. I’m not sure what he’s going to offer.”

Peters said the decision to bring the bill to the floor through the cloture process has nothing to do with the spat during the committee markup. Although the grants don’t expire until the end of the year, he said acting on the matter sooner would give fire departments “some certainty as to grants and when they’ll be available” as they make local budget decisions.

“We’re bringing it up because we want to get it passed,” Peters said. “We hope it will move quickly. It’s a noncontroversial bill. This is something that every firefighting department in the country uses and wants to see extended.”

Sean Michael Newhouse contributed to this report.

Recent Stories

NTSB says bad sensor, poor response worsened East Palestine wreck

Capitol Ink | Supreme sausage

Peters pitches AI legislation as model for private sector

Capitol Lens | Show chopper

After a ‘rough’ start, Sen. Fetterman opens up about his mental health journey

Supreme Court enters crunch time for term loaded with big issues