The White House sent a letter to Speaker John Boehner late last night, asking for a total of $5.1 billion in disaster relief funding to deal with the multitude of hurricanes, flooding and wildfires that have rocked the United States this summer. Here is the text of the letter:
I ask the Congress to consider the enclosed budget request for disaster response needs through Fiscal Year (FY) 2012. It includes a supplemental appropriations request for FY 2011 of $500 million and a budget amendment for FY 2012 of $4.6 billion for the Department of Homeland Security.
The proposed totals for FY 2011 and FY 2012 would increase by $5.1 billion as a result of this request. The additional funding would fund disaster response needs in the Disaster Relief Fund, including approximately $1.5 billion for the Federal share of costs to respond to Hurricane Irene.
This request responds to urgent and essential needs. The supplemental appropriations request would be designated as an emergency requirement. The request for FY 2012 in the budget amendment would constitute disaster relief within the meaning of section 251 of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985, as amended by the Budget Control Act of 2011, and would therefore adjust the discretionary spending levels for FY 2012 pursuant to section 251. The details of this request are set forth in the enclosed letter from the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.
That last paragraph refers to the fact that the debt limit deal allows for up to $11 billion in disaster relief funding without offsets, above the level of the spending cap for FY 2012. So the White House is asking for a quick authorization of funding without any spending cuts attached.
Harry Reid plans to introduce a bill in the Senate that would devote $6 billion to disaster relief, also without offsets. I imagine that Reid will modify his bill to contour to this request from the White House.
All eyes are then on the House to see what they’ll do. Eric Cantor has been hammered in recent weeks for his comments about disaster relief funding needing offsets. Democrats in Congress and the White House are clearly determined to call his bluff. Cantor has moderated his tone on this of late, no doubt in part because of the multiple House Republican freshmen whose districts where affected by Hurricane Irene. Let’s see if they allow a clean bill to come to the House floor.
One other thing on this. It would be nice if anyone in a position of power indicated that this summer of storms and fires is a direct result of the changes to our climate. The effects of man-made climate change are not something that exist in some far-flung future, they are happening right now.
UPDATE: It looks like the Republicans will seek offsets:
But a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) signaled late Friday that the GOP is likely to insist on offsets for the $500 million in emergency funds Obama requested for 2011, while dealing with the 2012 funds under a new set of rules agreed to as part of the August debt accord.
“The House has passed $1 billion in disaster relief funds that is fully offset, which we will look to move as quickly as possible,” she said. “There will be no delay in meeting the president’s request and providing people the aid they need.”
A little surprising that they’re making the $500 million the hill to die on here, not the funding request for FY2012 that’s 9 times larger. What Cantor doesn’t want to tell you is that the offsets in the disaster relief funding passed previously cuts grants for equipping and training first responders by 40 percent. So the bill provides disaster funding in exchange for cuts to the people who deliver disaster response.