By Dan Friedman
September 23, 2011Congress heads into the weekend stuck in another game of government-shutdown chicken after the Democratic-controlled Senate voted to reject a House-passed continuing resolution and lawmakers put off further action until Monday.
The Senate voted 59-36 to table the House Republican measure that would have provided $3.65 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster-relief funds. The Senate wants $6.9 billion provided, without offsetting cuts elsewhere in the budget.
After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture on an amended version of the House's CR, setting up a vote on that at 5:30 p.m. Monday.
The amended bill would fund disaster aid at the level in the House bill, $3.65 billion. But it would not include the House bill's offsets. Reid suggested leaders in both parties use the weekend to "just cool off a little bit" and work out a solution.
A continuing resolution agreed upon in April expires Sept. 30, the end of the fiscal year. Congress needs to pass a new CR by Oct. 1 to avoid a government shutdown.
Both sides continue to expect resolution before that date, but brinkmanship and last-minute maneuvers have left the issue in question.
After the Senate vote, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pressed unsuccessfully to immediately hold the cloture vote. McConnell said he was confident Reid's new bill would not receive the 60 votes needed for passage.
A Democratic leadership aide said the cloture motion is a fail-safe in case side negotiations fail to reach an agreement over the weekend.
Members in both chambers headed home on Friday, but after threatening on that day to recess without resolving the dispute, House leaders left open the prospect of returning on Monday.
A FEMA fund that the disaster-aid money would replenish is almost depleted, but members and aides said it has enough funding left to last through the middle of next week.
At news conference, Reid said he asked House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and McConnell to meet over the weekend to negotiate.
"We've agreed to their number on FEMA," Reid said, arguing reaching a deal should be "simple thing."
But Reid indicated limited flexibility beyond the amended measure he offered. He said he will not accept any offsets of the disaster aid funding, a stance that would mean Democrats will not offer further concessions.
He declined to disclose what he will do if the cloture vote fails on Monday, saying that "should be a question for" Republican leaders. Democratic leaders argued pressure will mount this weekend for GOP members to compromise.
By Dan Friedman
September 23, 2011