How Congress Ended Up on the Brink of Another Shutdown

This time Congressional Republicans are trying to stop spending money on disaster relief

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Incredibly, Congress is yet again on the precipice of a market-throttling government shutdown over the federal budget. How did we get here? The basic facts are this: a short-term spending measure to keep the government funded is being held up over financing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will run out of its disaster relief funds by today at the earliest. House Republicans passed a bill to fund FEMA that cuts funding from green energy programs and other spending measures, which Democrats rejected on Friday by a 59-36 votes, reported CNN. Now, flood victims in disaster-ravaged areas throughout the country are furious with Congress because they can't get the help they need, reports The New York Times. This evening the Democratic-led Senate will vote on its own version of the bill, which "includes dollars for disaster relief without an offsetting spending cut elsewhere that the House GOP demands," reports The Washington Post. Neither Republican nor Democratic leaders say a compromise has been brokered. Here's who's blaming who and how the bill could move forward:

The GOP has been irresponsible, writes Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly:

GOP leaders first decided to change the rules when it came to emergency disaster relief — Republicans said they wouldn’t approve the aid unless Democrats accepted cuts to a successful clean-energy program. The Senate and the White House said this wouldn’t do, but the House GOP went ahead anyway.

House Republicans then decided to make the spending bill a little more attractive to far-right members, with the leadership buying some GOP votes by cutting $100 million from a Department of Energy loan program the GOP loved until a few weeks ago.

That's not true, says Brit Hume on Fox News Sunday:

The Republicans pass[ed] a bill that has the disaster relief funding in it, to the tune of several billion dollars and they pay[ed] for it with cuts in green jobs funding. Well, green job funding ought to be by now a very low priority given the history of it and the fact that its utterly failed to produce meaningful jobs.

They sent it to the Senate. What does the Senate do? The Senate blocks it and then does, so far, nothing... I ask you in this: who’s being responsible? And who’s playing politics?

This is GOP hostage-taking, writes Norman Ornstein at The New Republic:

Here is the reality. Congress’s policy towards disaster relief has always been that money is allocated in the budget, and if more is required because there are more or deeper disasters, Congress provides it in supplemental funding. The roots of this showdown go back to Cantor announcing on August 25, while Hurricane Irene wreaked havoc, that he would break precedent and demand offsets for recovery expenditures. Cantor and his House Republicans then wrote their continuing resolution for this year’s appropriations to take money from popular research programs to pay for the disaster relief, and insisted that the Senate accept their plan.

Either way, it call comes down to Harry Reid now, writes Jake Sherman at Politico:

Reid’s risky decision to wait until the 11th hour to hold a vote on a must-pass budget bill relies on the support of a handful of Republicans who previously backed a Democratic plan approving billions in federal disaster aid. It’s not clear whether it’ll work. Republicans appear well-positioned to prevent the Democratic leader’s hardball tactics from succeeding...

If he falls short Monday evening, Reid will be faced with a crucial decision: Either allow the Senate to pass a House Republican stopgap budget bill that Democrats blocked on Friday, or try to forge a new way forward that could peel off enough Senate GOP support and force the House to return from recess to pass their plan. It’s unclear which path the Senate will take, though top Democrats over the weekend began gaming out their legislative options with time running short and FEMA warning its dollars could run dry by Tuesday or Wednesday.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.