Here we are again, on the brink of a government shutdown. With the economy in shambles, unemployment high, and wages static or declining, Congress is on the verge of shutting down the government. The issue is funding of disaster relief or cutting programs that create jobs. This sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit, but it is real.
And, the House of Representatives is on vacation–again.
Senate killed House bill Friday and will consider its bill today
Thursday, the GOP House of Representatives on a second try and on a party line vote passed a short term funding bill to keep the government open for another 7 weeks. It also included funding to keep FEMA open, it runs out of money this week, and the Post Office, it runs out of money the end of the month, and all other agencies that will be forced to close down Oct. 1 if a spending bill is not approved by Sept. 30.
The Senate killed the bill Friday. The reason is that the House bill off set disaster relief for the first time in history by cutting funding of programs that would result in killing tens of thousands of jobs. Also, the House drastically cut the money available to FEMA to deal with a record year of disasters including tornadoes, floods, earth quakes, and hurricanes.
The Senate will attempt to pass its bill today which would increase disaster funding to the required levels, and strip the provision that would eliminate $1.5 billion in green job money. This would result in job losses of many currently employed persons, and would stop many programs that would create jobs in the next year particularly in the auto industry.
The Democrats control the Senate, but Senate Rules allow for minority Republicans to force a cloture vote which requires 60 votes to bring a bill up on the floor. Democrats do not have 60 votes to allow a bill to be voted on even though they have a large majority to pass a bill.
Each side blames the other
“The Senate is saying . . . why should we, in effect, rebuild schools in Iraq on the credit card [deficit spending borrowing the money] but expect that rebuilding schools in Joplin, Missouri… to be paid for in a way that has never been in any of the previous disaster assistance that we’ve put out before?” Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA.) said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He blamed the dispute on tea-party-affiliated Republicans in the House who demanded the spending cut.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN.) said on the same program: “Everybody knows we’re going to pay for every single penny of disaster aid that the president declares and that FEMA certifies. And the House sent over a bill that does that and the Senate should have approved it. ”He blamed Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV.) for manufacturing a crisis over funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Warner is correct, Congress has never required off sets to disaster spending before it was approved.
Laurie Kellman of AP wrote “The current standoff raises a question: If lawmakers can’t even agree to help victims of natural disasters, how are they going to strike a deal to cut $1.5 trillion in spending this fall in the white-hot climate of presidential and congressional politics?”
What happens if Senate bill passes or fails?
If Democrats can persuade a few Republicans to defect and vote to allow the bill to come up for a vote even if they end up voting against it, the bill would pass. But, to avoid a shut down, the House would have to approve the Senate version (unlikely), or go to a Conference Committee. Problem is, the House is on vacation and GOP Leader Cantor (RTP-VA) said they have no intention of cutting the vacation short at this time.
If the Senate bill is defeated, then there will be no funding bill and absent some other last minute move, FEMA will runs out of money, the Post Office will go broke, and the government will shut down.
The only other possibility will be if sane heads will prevail and the two Houses can work out a compromise that will pass both, and be signed by the President. Of course, this would interfere with vacation time.
Shutdown would be a disaster
A government shutdown would be terrible in a good economy, but a disaster in this one that is teetering on the brink of recession. A shutdown of more than a couple days would probably trigger a recession, cause at least 800,000 to lose their jobs at least temporarily, and send bad signal to global markets. Only essential government employees would continue to work—and of course Congress.
This year, however, politics seems to trump righteousness and common sense.
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