Approps Dems force votes on cuts to firefighters, disaster aid

Democrats on the House Appropriations Committee forced committee votes Tuesday on controversial cuts to firefighter assistance and disaster relief.

The committee marked up a GOP 2012 Homeland Security spending bill that would cut $1.07 billion from fiscal 2011 levels, and about $3 billion from President Obama's request for next year.

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Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) offered two amendments to try to reverse the cuts and both failed on party line votes.

The first restores funding for Firefighter Assistance Grants to last year's levels, restoring $460 million in funding to reverse a 65 percent cut.

"Rep. Price believes it's critical to restore funding to the first responder community because these Homeland Security professionals are first on the scene in the event of attacks, natural disasters and other emergencies," an aide said.
 
The second amendment restores cuts to FEMA state and local programs as well as the firefighter program.

The current bill cuts Federal Emergency Management Agency State and Local programs to 55 percent below the enacted FY2011 level, and 70 percent below the FY2010 level. 

"If the bill is adopted as currently written, transit agencies will not have funding to hire additional law enforcement officers, acquire bomb sniffing dogs, or install explosive screening devices at a time when open source media reports indicate that al Qaeda has set its sights on the U.S. rail system," an aide said.

All the Republicans on the committee except Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) and Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) voted against the first amendment. LaTourette alone voted for the second. Rehberg is running for Senate in Montana and also voted against the House GOP budget due to its cuts to Medicare.

Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) pointed out that FEMA disaster relief, used once a disaster strikes, is increased to $850 million compared to Obama's request.

“While this bill rightly seeks to help states and localities rebuild after a disaster strikes, it decimates the work required to prepare for one before it happens,” Price countered.

Democrats are also angered by GOP statements that all supplemental disaster relief this year, such as for the tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri, will have to be offset.

Regarding emergency assistance, Aderholt successfully offered an amendment to increase emergency disaster relief by $1 billion. Democrats on the committee said that this will not likely be enough to handle tornado and flooding damage so far this year in the heartland.

Aderholt's amendment pays for the added disaster relief by cutting funding for Department of Energy Alternative Technology Vehicle loans. There are nine pending applications for loans, including from Chrysler, Democrats pointed out.