Dems say GOP shortchanging disaster victims

Full committee ranking member Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) said the bill’s cuts to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) grants and 60 percent cut to firefighter funding mean that Congress is “backing away” from first responders.

Dicks said this will be exacerbated by a requirement the GOP is contemplating that any emergency supplemental appropriations bill for disaster relief be offset.

He said the flooding and tornado damage could require $10 billion to $15 billion more in funding and finding an offset for the emergency spending would be very difficult.

Full committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) said that appropriators are consulting with the Office of Management and Budget and FEMA on what new funding may be necessary.

Committee spokeswoman Jennifer Hing said no policy on any offset requirement has been announced.

She also said the DHS bill does not turn any FEMA grant recipients away, but rather requires competition so that more worthy projects receive funding in the future.

Subcommittee chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said the cuts were made because the FEMA grant pipeline is not working.

“We simply cannot keep throwing money into a clogged pipeline when our debt and deficits are soaring out of control and I believe it’s our duty to reform and I believe it’s our duty to reform the management and execution of these grant programs,” he said.

Dicks argued in response that the backlog in grants is due to the fact that most of the money is going to construction and therefore cannot be spent in one fiscal year. He said Democrats are working on full committee amendments to address their problems with the bill, but the deeper problem is the House-passed budget resolution, which requires $30 billion in cuts in discretionary funding next year from current levels.

“Leadership has decided to double down on what I think is an unfortunate economic theory called ‘cut and grow,’” he said.

Aderholt pointed out that the bill had to correct for the fact that OMB in its request for 2012 had budgeted for $650 million in fees that Congress had not approved. DHS had sought to collect an aviation security passenger security fee and a change in the customs fees for people coming to the U.S. from Canada and Mexico.