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House set to act on disaster funds deal Thursday

By the CNN Wire Staff
September 27, 2011 -- Updated 1622 GMT (0022 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The House is expected to pass a short-term funding extension Thursday
  • The Senate passed short-term spending measures Monday night
  • Party leaders disagree over whether to cut spending to pay for disaster relief
  • The dispute threatened a possible partial government shutdown

Washington (CNN) -- The House of Representatives is expected to take action Thursday on a bipartisan agreement ending a dispute over disaster relief spending that threatened to cause a partial shutdown of the government by the end of the week.

Specifically, the House is set to approve legislation Thursday that will keep the government funded through October 4, followed by a more comprehensive measure next Tuesday that will keep Washington funded through November 18, according to the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia.

Thursday's approval will likely take place through a legislative maneuver known as "unanimous consent," which allows as few as two House members to approve a bill so long as no objections are filed. Most House members are currently away from Washington on a one-week recess.

On Monday night, the Senate approved both bills, which together will fund the federal government for the first seven weeks of the new fiscal year beginning Saturday.

The Senate passed the first measure on a 79-12 vote, then approved the second measure on a voice vote.

The spending proposals contain an additional $2.65 billion in disaster relief needed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to replenish coffers depleted partly by the federal response to Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and a series of wildfires and tornadoes this year.

The new emergency disaster funding will kick in starting Saturday.

Democrats and Republicans had been at odds over a GOP demand to cut spending elsewhere in order to offset increased disaster relief funding in the current fiscal year. FEMA ended that standoff Monday when it indicated that it has enough money to get through the rest of the current fiscal year without any additional assistance.

Last Friday, when lawmakers did not believe FEMA would have enough funds to make it through Saturday, the GOP-led House passed a bill that included an additional $3.65 billion in disaster relief. It would have provided $1 billion of that total for use this week but at the cost of $1.6 billion in cuts vehemently opposed by key Democrats.

Specifically, the Republicans wanted to cut $1.5 billion from a loan program that helps automakers retool their operations to make more fuel-efficient cars. Another $100 million would have been cut from an alternative energy loan program that provided funding for the solar panel firm Solyndra, a company that declared bankruptcy late last month despite receiving a $535 million federal guarantee in 2009.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, depicted the new agreement Monday as a victory over the House Republicans, who Democrats said had needlessly held up the disaster relief funding by demanding unprecedented spending offsets for emergency aid.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, responded by arguing that the political impasse could have been avoided if Senate Democrats had simply accepted the GOP's proposed cuts.

Democrats, in turn, said that if they agreed to the GOP's plan, Congress would have set a dangerous precedent of subjecting disaster relief to unrelated political wrangling.

The new agreement may only provide a temporary solution to FEMA's funding woes. Administration officials have indicated that more funds will be required for the agency soon. The Senate had initially passed legislation providing $6.9 billion in funding for FEMA and other federal agencies, to be used for disaster relief both immediately and in the new fiscal year.

But that Senate version, which included no spending offsets, had little chance of passing the House.

If Congress had failed to reach a new spending agreement, a partial government shutdown would have occurred at the close of the current the fiscal year at midnight Friday. Government shutdowns were also threatened during budget talks in the spring and the debt ceiling debate over the summer.

CNN's Kate Bolduan, Ted Barrett, Tom Cohen, Lisa Desjardins, Deirdre Walsh and Lisa Sylvester contributed to this report.

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