Why did Congress get this close to a government shutdown?

In a surprise move, the Senate reached a deal Monday that will likely avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1 and paves the way for funding the government through Nov. 18.

The breakthrough came when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada informed senators that, contrary to its previous estimates, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had enough money to get through the end of the week.

FEMA funding for the final week of fiscal year 2011, which ends Friday, had been the main obstacle dividing House and Senate lawmakers in their efforts to reach a deal to stave off a government shutdown Saturday. Republicans had wanted any FEMA overruns in this fiscal year to be offset by budget cuts in FY 2012. But most Democrats had rejected this plan.

A shutdown appeared likely until Monday’s announcement defused the issue.

“It shows us the way out,” Reid told senators just before the Monday vote. “Let’s fight when there’s something to fight about. There’s nothing to fight about tonight.”

The Senate passed the spending bill, 79 to 12, but with the House in recess and out of Washington, some procedural hurdles remain. To make the Oct. 1 deadline, the House can hold a voice vote in a pro forma session this week — a move that would not require all House members to return to Washington.

But that will extend the government-shutdown deadline only to Oct. 4. To fund government through Nov. 18 will require a vote of the full House when it returns next week. Reports suggest that House leaders are already throwing their support behind the bill.

As to why FEMA revised its estimates Monday, officials said the FY 2011 numbers have been a moving target. Last week, FEMA officials said they expected funds to run out by Tuesday. By Monday, they had changed course and said the $114 million remaining in the Disaster Relief Fund would be enough.

“It’s important to remember that these are only estimates and the fund fluctuates due to a number of factors that are beyond our control, including the number of additional disaster survivors who register for assistance, as well as additional survivors that become eligible for assistance,” said a FEMA spokesman in an e-mail. “It’s also important to remember that this estimate assumes that no new disasters strike between now and when the fund may reach zero.”

Senators accepted the news gratefully.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky called the agreement “a reasonable way to keep government operational.”

But, he added, the Republican principle that “before we spend taxpayers’ money we should have a real accounting of what’s actually needed” is still on the table.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia had stunned Democrats with his call earlier this month to require spending cuts to offset all disaster-relief spending. Facing opposition even in GOP ranks, this demand was scaled back in the House version of the bill to cover only the rest of FY 2011.

For offsets, House Republicans proposed cutting $1.6 billion in two green energy programs favored by Democrats.

The Senate rejected that House plan on Friday, 59 to 36.

“Had we agreed to what the House wanted to do, the next time would people say you had to cut education before you help the earthquake victims?” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York at a press briefing after the vote.

Portions of all but two states — Michigan and West Virginia — have been declared federal disaster areas this year as a result of storms, fires, earthquakes, hurricanes or floods.

Gail Russell Chaddock is a staff writer for the Christian Science Monitor.

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Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/27/2011 - 11:19 am.

    The people elected these clowns and now they are reaping the consequences. If we really had a free market in ideas and economics, the Republican “brand” would not survive another election cycle. But since the Republicans and the right wing control the flow of ideas and the market and have convinced the rubes that such things are really “free”, they will eventually succeed in drowning the government, as well as many flood and other disaster victims, in the metaphorical bathtub.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/27/2011 - 12:52 pm.

    “But since the Republicans and the right wing control the flow of ideas and the market and have convinced the rubes that such things are really “free”, they will eventually succeed”

    You argue that the “flow” of ideas isn’t free, but rely on the free flow of expression to spew forth the idea that those who disagree are “rubes”.

    Think about that.

  3. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 09/27/2011 - 01:56 pm.

    There are a fair number of protesters who have “occupied Wall Street” engaging in peaceful protests for awhile now but hey were not allowed to protest in an area where their protests could be seen and none of the mainstream media in print, radio or TV covered these protests or the blatant police brutality which has ensued this weekend. When right winger Lynn Cheney wanted to protest the trial of terrorusts in New York, she was allowed to have a huge covered sound stage, right across from the federal courthouse, a JumboTron, and the city shut down Foley Square for her plus her supporters were not harassed by the police with fences, pepper spray and mace.


    or how about the “Ground Zero Mosque” protests staged by the right wing?

    People deemed by the right wing media to be “too liberal” are ignored by the MSM and right wing blabbermouths outnumber independent thinkers and speakers 100 to 1.

    I’m grateful I’m allowed to express my views freely on MinnPost and other websites. But freedom of expression also means the freedom to have equal access to audiences. The right wing media controls this access and the flow of ideas by restricting who gets to use the loudest and biggest “bullhorns.”

  4. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/27/2011 - 04:31 pm.

    To be fair, the Wall Street protestors never applied for a parade permit, something that is routinely given.
    If they had, they would have been demonstrating legally and the police would have provided support.

  5. Submitted by Tom Lynch on 09/27/2011 - 07:34 pm.

    #4 “To be fair, the Wall Street protestors never applied for a parade permit, something that is routinely given.”

    Don’t know if they applied for a permit or not, but they are NOT routinely given. Unless you think charging $4,200 for a permit is routine.

    I doubt Lynn Cheney and her supporters had any problem with that, but ordinary Americans most certainly would.

  6. Submitted by Hiram Foster on 09/28/2011 - 06:35 am.

    “Why did Congress get this close to a government shutdown?”

    Because they are evil.

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