Top Dem signals fight over GOP plan to fund FEMA with Energy cuts

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) on Thursday afternoon indicated that Democrats will oppose House GOP efforts to give the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) a $1 billion boost in the current fiscal year by cutting back on a Department of Energy program aimed at funding advances in the auto industry.

House Republicans on Wednesday introduced a continuing resolution that would allow the government to operate through Nov. 18, and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the House would consider that resolution next week. Among other things, the resolution provides another $1 billion for FEMA that it can use in the current fiscal year.

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That increase is offset by a $1.5 billion cut to the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. In a discussion on the House floor Thursday, Hoyer said that program has helped to create thousands of U.S. jobs by fostering innovation in U.S. auto companies.

"What we are doing, in my view … is undermining a specific item in the current scheme of things that is creating jobs," Hoyer said. "It appears that … the CR would target a particular item that is exactly what we want to do, and that is creating jobs."

Cantor argued back that the program can be safely cut because it would still have billions of dollars left to use as grants, since billions have gone unused for years.

"There's currently $4 billion in unobligated budget authority remaining under the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program, and this so-called pay-for just rescinds $1.5 billion of that total, and the program will have remaining in it $2.5 billion," Cantor said.

"And I think it's worthy of note … that this money has been laying around since Sept. 30, 2008," Cantor added. "That is three years."

Hoyer responded by saying there is currently $3.9 billion in pending requests for funding under the program, which he said could lead to up to 60,000 new jobs.

Cantor reiterated that billions of dollars are going unused in the program, and that only $780 million of $4 billion has been used this year. He also rejected the idea that the program has created jobs, and said many would argue that the funding has been used in the context of jobs that "already existed" at U.S. auto companies.

Cantor added that claims of specific job growth through the program are promises that "can't be substantiated."

Cantor said the House would likely take up the rule for the continuing resolution on Tuesday, and debate the resolution itself, H.J.Res. 79, on Wednesday.

In the meantime, the Senate is still pushing for $6.9 billion in new funding for FEMA, which would not be offset.