The attempt to meet looming deadlines and avoid shutdowns of part (or all) of the government resembles the aftermath of a car wreck right now. It’s unclear whether the Senate can move the broken-down vehicles off the road in time to let the traffic move through.
Here’s what’s going on. The FAA authorization runs out tomorrow. But the Senate is already on a bill, which provides $6.8 billion in disaster relief funding attached to Burma sanctions legislation (the FEMA/Burma bill). This already received 61 votes on cloture for a motion to proceed on Tuesday, but because of the stupid way in which our Senate works, they had to wait 30 hours to finish with the motion to proceed, then debate and move to the final vote, and then 30 hours for a cloture motion to ripen on that, and then post-cloture debate, and then the final vote. So we knew that the Senate had the votes to pass the FEMA/Burma bill on Tuesday, but it’s impossible to get a final vote until tomorrow, Friday.
The FAA/surface transportation authorization bill, which passed in clean fashion from the House, is lined up behind that. In theory, unanimous consent could be given to just pass that one tomorrow after the FEMA/Burma bill is dispensed with. But theory never does well when matched up with Tom Coburn.
Here’s a little bit of a procedural explanation: The House of Representatives passed a joint bill yesterday to continue temporary funding for the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and federal highway, transit and highway safety programs. Now in the Senate, the bill is being objected to by one Republican: Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who is upset over the funding that states must invest in surface transportation as part of the Highway bill, which is tied to the FAA bill [...]
As of now, unless Senate Minority [sic] Leader Reid were to set aside the FEMA bill, and call up the FAA bill, which he likely will not do, the FAA bill is being held up, forced to be addressed second. The FAA bill though has a deadline, of Friday evening, when funds will run out.
Coburn’s literally mad about bike safety funding.
So you have the combination of the single-track rule in the Senate, forcing resolution on FEMA/Burma before moving to the FAA/surface transportation bill, and Dr. No Coburn, probably the only Senator willing to hold up the FAA/surface transportation bill, conspiring to allow FAA authorization to run out, AGAIN, for the second time in two months. This delay may be short term, as eventually the snarl will sort itself out. But remember, this is the crackerjack Senate that needed no major structural rules changes at the beginning of the year. It’s not just about the filibuster, it’s about the ability for one Senator to delay legislation even when they don’t have the votes to stop it. The end result of that is less legislation, which Republicans quite like. But thousands of FAA personnel are going to suffer as a result, unless an agreement can be reached.
Meanwhile, the House released their continuing resolution for FY2012, a two-month stopgap measure in lieu of appropriations. And FEMA funding factors in here, too.
The 17-page continuing resolution or CR runs through Nov. 18 and as first introduced, would impose a 1.4 percent cut on most agencies and Cabinet departments, including Defense, to stay within 2012 spending caps set in August. After overnight scoring by the Congressional Budget Office that cut was adjusted to 1.5 percent Thursday morning to meet the target.
FEMA and the Corps of Engineers would immediately benefit from a first installment of $1 billion in emergency funds to avoid any disruption in aid for these last weeks of the 2011 fiscal year ending Sept. 30. The second $2.65 billion represents a downpayment toward FEMA’s 2012 budget, and the White House is expected to take an “expansive” approach in apportioning the money even through the resolution covers a fraction of the budget year [...]
In compliance with the Budget Control Act negotiated this summer, total appropriations for 2012 will be set at an annual rate of $1.043 trillion — a number that includes the $2.65 billion for FEMA.
It sounds like the FEMA funding is “paid for,” then, because the Budget Control Act was supposed to have a safety valve where emergency funding for disaster relief could reach above the $1.043 trillion discretionary spending number. In fact, the $1 billion for FY2011 offered by the House is tied to cuts in loans for the production of fuel efficient vehicles. In addition, the $3.65 billion in total disaster relief is around half of what the Senate is offering in its offset-free $6.8 billion bill.
So that’s going to have to come to a resolution in the next couple weeks, or else the whole government will shut down. And FEMA won’t have the resources it needs to continue to deliver disaster relief.