Senate strikes a deal to avert shutdown

Senate leaders struck a deal Monday night that is intended to avert a government shutdown.

Under a last-minute arrangement reached by the two parties, the Senate approved a bill, 79-12, that would fund the government for six weeks, through Nov. 18.

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The Senate also approved by voice vote a one-week stopgap measure that would fund the government through Oct. 4. That measure was intended to buy time for the House to return next week to consider the six-week measure.

“We’ve basically resolved this issue,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Under the agreement, the House would have to approve that stopgap measure by unanimous consent later this week in a pro forma session. This would give the lower chamber enough time to return from Congress's weeklong recess to consider the six-week measure.

However, House GOP leaders were mum on whether they had the support within their caucus for that fast-track approval, even as they took credit for blocking increased government spending.

“If it weren't for House GOP efforts, the American taxpayers would have been on the hook for even more reckless borrowing by Washington Democrats,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

Reid said his staff had talked with House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) staff about the deal, but did not say whether the House would be able to pass it.

Nonetheless, Democrats were confident it would advance.

"It is hard to see how House Republicans could reject this proposal, given the overwhelming vote it received in the Senate," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Democratic leaders were eager to paint the deal as a win for them.

"If they want to go through this again, they are really looking for some more losses," said Reid. "I don't think this has been a very happy week for my friends in the House."

Some Senate Democrats were not taking the House approval as a sure thing, given the previous times conservative Tea Party members have bucked GOP leaders.

“As long as they are the dominant element in the House and to some extent here too, anything is possible,” said Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

But Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said he was confident the House would be able to sign off on the stopgap.

There was a sense of relief from senators Monday on the apparent deal. Without an agreement on a funding measure, the government could have shut down after Friday. 

“We've averted disaster until the next one,” said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who added he was pleased to see bipartisan cooperation in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the final arrangement was a “vindication” for Republicans.

“Before we spend taxpayers’ money, we should have a real accounting of what’s actually needed,” he said. “In my view, this entire fire drill was completely unnecessary. But I’m glad a resolution now appears to be at hand.”

The deal came about after officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) informed lawmakers that its disaster fund would be sufficiently stocked for the remainder of the week, which also ends the government’s fiscal year. Partisan fighting over whether increased funding for FEMA in fiscal 2011, which ends after this week, should be offset by spending cuts was the biggest sticking point to any deal, and agency officials previously thought they would run dry by Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Senate as a first step rejected Reid's government-funding proposal, doing so on a 54-35 vote.

Reid’s proposal would have funded the government through Nov. 18. It included $3.65 billion in funding for FEMA, but did not include a $1.5 billion cut to a green energy program included in legislation approved last week by the House as an offset for the additional FEMA spending. 

Democrats opposed the GOP offset, arguing it would cost jobs. Reid said on the Senate floor Monday that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — no Democratic “lapdog” — determined the cut would cost 45,000 jobs.

In his bid to pass his bill, Reid was leaning heavily on support from the 10 Republican senators representing disaster-afflicted areas that previously backed a standalone bill that would have boosted FEMA's funding by $6.9 billion without offsets.

However, Reid needed seven of those members to back his bill, and four indicated their opposition to the bill before the vote.

The agreement came after Reid called senators back into session on Monday for the vote, cutting into a weeklong recess meant to coincide with the Jewish new year.

Prior to the vote, Reid slammed House Republican leaders for sending members home Friday after approving Boehner's bill.

“The House, as we speak, on the eve of the government shutting down next Saturday, and FEMA on the verge of having no money, they left, they are gone, they are not in Washington,” he said on the Senate floor. “It’s really hard to negotiate with people who are not here.”


This story was posted at 6:47 p.m. and last updated at 9:01 p.m.

Josiah Ryan contributed to this story.



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