Playing politics with federal disaster aid

WTF FEMA funding hp 9.26.11

The House Republicans’ ploy to withhold federal disaster aid in exchange for steep cuts to domestic jobs programs was quelled after the Senate overwhelmingly passed a temporary measure to avert another government shutdown.

Columbia, NC, August 31, 2011 -- Friends and neighbors help find belongings after a tornado that spawned from Hurricane Irene destoyed this mobile home. FEMA photo/Tim Burkitt

The Democratic-controlled Senate passed H.R. 2608 by a vote of 79 to 12, which would provide the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with $2.65 billion to avoid further interruptions in its recovery work after Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, wildfires, tornados, and other natural disasters. On Monday, FEMA announced that it has enough cash to carry the agency through Friday, Sept. 30, which marks the end of fiscal year 2011.

The Senate measure returns to the House for a vote, which is expected to take place on Thursday.

“We expect speedy passage of this agreement by the House so that the flow of disaster aid is not interrupted,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “It is hard to see how the House Republicans could reject this proposal given the overwhelming vote it received in the Senate, receiving a majority of both parties, which doesn’t happen on major bills that often these days.”

Last week, the House Republicans passed a measure to provide FEMA with “an immediate infusion of $774 million in disaster relief funding, $226 million in flood control funding, and another $2.65 billion for disaster aid efforts available immediately on October 1.” However, the House Republicans insisted that the FEMA funds be offset by $1.6 billion in cuts to energy-related jobs programs, such as the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program that helps retool car plants and retrains workers to produce fuel-efficient vehicles in the United States.

“For me, it added insult to injury when Republicans were playing games in order to help those of the weather emergency but hurting those with a job emergency. And that’s exactly what they were doing,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). It’s an emergency when you lose your job and can’t put food on the table for your family. It’s an emergency when you spend hours and hours and hours trying to find a job and are not successful. It’s an emergency when we’re losing jobs making things to other countries because we don’t have a strategy for keeping them here.”

“It was the wrong precedent to set – one that would have jeopardized the swift approval of disaster aid funds in the future. Had we agreed to do what the House wanted to do, the next time – say there were victims of an earthquake – would people have said you have to cut education before we help earthquake victims?” Schumer asked.

Statements by Democratic Senators after the passage of H.R. 2608 on Sept. 26, 2011: 

Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV): 

“I’m certainly happy that Democrats and Republicans were able to reach a bipartisan agreement. We’ve accomplished a number of very important things with this agreement. We got the money for FEMA that’s needed for at least the next six weeks, which protects the people all over this country which so badly need the help now. We saved 45,000 jobs – American jobs. We prevented an unnecessary damaging government shutdown.

“I’m very happy that 26 Republicans joined us tonight in doing the right thing to help disaster victims without further delay. In times of crisis for our fellow Americans, the most important thing is to make sure they get the resources they need without delay and not engage in partisan posturing. I’m satisfied that tonight we held to that principle.

“We should never have to choose between an American job and aiding disaster victims. We should never have to choose between American jobs and having people understand that government can function. We should never have to choose between American jobs and aiding disaster victims for sure.

“Since 1990, we’ve rarely – rarely – handled this funding outside the regular budget process. That’s because helping Americans who have lost homes and loved one to natural disasters has always been – and should be – above politics. This, I repeat, ensures that FEMA will have the fundings they need to provide food and shelter to those people who have been affected by this disaster and they can restart the program that have been brought to a screeching halt in Joplin, Missouri; Cairo, Illinois; Langsett, North Carolina; all over Texas, and of course in Louisiana, which has been devastated. We’re also not over the devastation of Tropical Storm Lee. People in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire have felt that very much. And of course, the Irene Hurricane, they’re still mopping up the damage from that.

“Now I hope the House is going to come back from their little break here and complete this work as fast as they can. It’s certainly something the country needs. I can’t understand how they possibly can have any questions about what they need to do now.”

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Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY): 

“Well, thank you. First, I want to thank you, Leader Reid, for being, as usual, your persistent, indomitable self, working from last week to make sure that we got this done. Mary Landrieu has been just an amazing leader on this issue, just hearing her on the floor, again, convinced of the importance getting the FEMA funds and never giving up until we got them. Debbie Stabenow made it clear to our caucus how important the jobs portion of this bill was and how to trade jobs on the one hand to help FEMA victims on the other was really unfair and wrong. She succeeded and congratulations to you Debbie.

“Now it took longer than it should have, but for disaster victims across the country, help is on the way. All of us hoped disaster aid would have been settled two weeks ago when the Senate acted in a bipartisan way on a package to fully fund FEMA. But the House insisted on a different approach that complicated matters needlessly, against the urging of many in their party of blocking the House trying to hold up aid to impose a political agenda. They want to insist that we sacrifice critical jobs programs in order to afford aid for hurricane victims. Pitting the poor victims of the hurricane against workers who had just found work because of the successful jobs program.

“Last Thursday night, our caucus met and decided to a person that this was a false choice. It went against history, and it went against any sense of fairness. It was the wrong precedent to set – one that would have jeopardized the swift approval of disaster aid funds in the future. Had we agreed to do what the House wanted to do, the next time – say there were victims of an earthquake – would people have said you have to cut education before we help earthquake victims? So we have forged a path forward tonight a bipartisan deal in the Senate, along with some updated accounting by FEMA, has helped us reach a breakthrough. We expect speedy passage of this agreement by the House so that the flow of disaster aid is not interrupted. It is hard to see how the House Republicans could reject this proposal given the overwhelming vote it received in the Senate, receiving a majority of both parties, which doesn’t happen on major bills that often these days.

“Make no mistake, this is not a long-term solution. We will need to return in the coming months to provide additional funds for disaster aid. The administration’s fiscal year 2012 request for FEMA, after all, was $4.6 billion, and this deal does not fully meet that request. But because of this agreement, future efforts to provide FEMA with funds it needs will be less filled with politics. Republicans have never attempted to demand that funds for fiscal year 2012 be offset. Next week, we will enter into a new fiscal year. The biggest holdup to this deal will be a non-factor because we will be in fiscal year 2012 when we revisit the issue of disaster aid down the road.”

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Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LO):

“Thank you. I want to thank Leader Reid and Schumer for helping the Democratic Party finding the backbone they needed to fight and win – partially – but win this debate.

“The strong vote in the Senate tonight rejected the Cantor Doctrine, which was a dangerous doctrine which would have put us in a very, very tough position in all future disasters.”

“I also want to thank Sen. Stabenow, who was tireless in her efforts and work and speeches on the floor to remind us all how important this advanced technology loan program is, how many jobs it’d created in our country, and the unnecessary and sort of mean-spirited approach that came through from some wanting to gut this program, even those sending letters in support of it for projects to be funded in their own districts.”

“So we have moved past, we have kept the government operating. We had a very strong vote – bipartisan vote – on this. I thank the leader for getting us this opportunity to and the time it took to get this message out and to actually win on this issue. Thank you.”

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Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI): 

“Well, I want to thank, first of all, Sen. Reid for his tenacious fight to make sure that we were protecting American jobs, making things American at the same time helping victims of hurricanes, floods, and tornados across this country. Sen. Schumer for his equal tenacity and Sen. Landrieu for her very strong leadership as well in fighting for those across our country – 48 states where people have found themselves this year in some kind of a weather emergency.

“For me, it added insult to injury when Republicans were playing games in order to help those of the weather emergency but hurting those with a job emergency. And that’s exactly what they were doing. It’s an emergency when you lose your job and can’t put food on the table for your family. It’s an emergency when you spend hours and hours and hours trying to find a job and are not successful. It’s an emergency when we’re losing jobs making things to other countries because we don’t have a strategy for keeping them here.

“The Advanced Technology Vehicle Program was put in place to help us as we move to smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles, electric plug-in vehicles, and so on to make sure that we’re making them here – not overseas. This is a retooling program to go into communities where plants have closed, where factories are about to be closed, to support the retooling of those for new kinds of vehicles. And it’s working. We have saved or added 41,000 jobs to date. We have wonderful stories.

“The first loan was given to Ford Motor Company, who’s now bring jobs back from Mexico. They indicated to me today that they’re bringing jobs back from other countries as well.

“The next 11 possible loans are about to be given that would add somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 more good-paying American jobs making things in America. So that was part of this fight as well.

“I want to thank U.S. Chamber and a number of businesses and quote the National Association of Manufacturers when they said, “The ATVM program is an example of what government-industry partnerships can accomplish. It has helped create and preserve thousands of auto sector jobs and put our nation on a path toward greater energy security. NAM believes defunding this program would hurt manufacturers and their employees.” So this is something that clearly manufacturers – large and small across our country – understand as part of our commitment to making things here in America.

“I, again, want to thank Sen. Reid, Sen. Schumer, Sen. Landrieu, our House Democratic colleagues who are willing to stand up with us and take the fight. I think we made a very important point tonight about helping those who need help as a result of weather disasters and also standing up for people who’ve lost their jobs and want us to continue to make things in America.”

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Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT): 

“This is what somebody in Vermont told me this morning, and you’ve heard me say expressions of this. These people are willing to write a blank check to build roads and bridges in Iraq and Afghanistan, and then the people in Iraq and Afghanistan blow them up. Give us the money to build the roads and bridges in America, we guarantee we’ll keep them intact. That was a old time Vermonter told me that and it hit it on the head.”

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One Comment on “Playing politics with federal disaster aid

  1. Pingback: Analysis: FEMA & federal disaster assistance funding threatened by sequestration, GOP budget cuts | What The Folly?!

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