As I reported during last night’s live blog, the Senate reached agreement on a Continuing Resolution to fund the federal government, including reduced emergency funds — but without offsets — through November 18. The agreement averts for now the threat of a government shutdown. The Senate approved the CR by a vote of 79-12, and the House is expected to sign on next week.
In the end, the war was called off on a technicality. As explained in the live thread yesterday, the fact that FEMA had enough funds to make it to the end of the fiscal year – which is Friday – eliminated the need for an emergency funding request.
FEMA would still need money, but that could be handled in Fiscal Year 2012. With additional FY2011 emergency funding no longer necessary, both sides could take something off the table from the continuing resolution – the $1 billion appropriated to replenish FEMA accounts in 2011, and the offset of Advanced Vehicle Technology Manufacturing and Department of Energy loan guarantees.
But make no mistake – this was a victory for Democrats. They preserved a key principle: no disaster relief gets offset. When a hurricane destroys someone’s house, Congress doesn’t have to kneecap someone else’s budget.
In addition, the bipartisan deal passed by the Senate includes $2.65 billion in FEMA funds appropriated for FY2012. That amount goes above the spending cap set in the debt limit deal, without offsets at all. This is less than the $5.1 billion requested by the Administration, but it’s more than halfway to the target. And since this continuing resolution to fund the government runs out on November 18, there will be other opportunities (also, only $4.6 billion of that was requested for FY2012).
Moreover, a precedent has been set now in this Congress: Republicans will accept disaster relief above the spending cap. That’s spelled out directly in the debt limit deal, and now it has been put into practice.
Republicans did not want to go near a shutdown; that much was clear. FEMA’s ability to make it through FY2011 provided the safety valve, and they ran to it. They’ll never admit it, but they wimped out. They were absolutely terrified of being blamed for causing a government shutdown.
Incidentally, this is the second straight example where Democrats refused to budge on a principle governing Congress, and Republicans caved after a spell. The other was the FAA authorization, where Republicans tried to add a policy rider to a routine authorization extension. Democrats said no, and that one actually reached the shutdown phase before Republicans capitulated. This time they didn’t even get that far.
We now know what will inspire Democrats to defend their priorities: governing norms. These are clearly important priorities to defend. If Republicans could just throw in whatever policy changes they wanted every time some authorization expired, if they could force a budget concession every time there was a natural disaster, Congress would be even more of a chaotic mess than it already is. As Harry Reid said last night in a statement. “When our fellow Americans are in crisis, we must make sure they get the aid they need without delay, not engage in a political debate.”
As I said, this continuing resolution only lasts until November 18. John Boehner must first schedule passage of this deal in the next couple days. After that, as Suzy Khimm notes, there could be a bigger fight next time.
For now, it’s clear Democrats stood strong and won this round.