ByÂ Stephen Dinan-The Washington Times
In a flurry of bipartisan cooperation late Thursday, theÂ Senate cleared a $7 billion bill to boost federal disaster funding and measures to keep theFederal Aviation Administration and federal highway spending going for the rest of this year, as lawmakers brushed aside conservativesâ€™ concerns over the deficit.
TheÂ FAA and highway programs were extended at current funding levels after senators rejected amendments to cut their funding. TheÂ Senatealso turned back an effort to offset the additional disaster money by eliminating $7 billion in duplicative government programs â€” both steps Republicans had fought for.
â€œToday shows that the pendulum is swinging back,â€Â Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told reporters as he and fellow Democratic leaders touted the votes and said it signifies the re-emergence of a bipartisan consensus in favor of infrastructure and basic government functions.
The disaster-aid bill passed 62-37, while the bill combining the highway andÂ FAA measures passed 92-6.
Both Democrats and Republicans seemed to lack the stomach for the kinds of fights that have dominated much of this year, which nearly brought the government to a shutdown and a potential debt default, and did leave thousands ofÂ FAA workers and contractors furloughed early last month when the House andÂ Senate stalemated over extending the programâ€™s authorization.
But the disaster-aid vote remains contentious, and at stake is the fundamental principle of whether all new spending must be offset or not.
House Republicans are working on a less-expensive bill, at $3.65 billion, that includes $1 billion in offsets, and have attached it to an omnibus bill to extend all government funding past Sept. 30, which is when the current fiscal year ends.
With much of the country touched by hurricane, tornado, wildfire or earthquake damage, the governmentâ€™s main disaster-relief spending account is nearly empty. All sides agree the government has an obligation to pony up, but they disagree on whether it should be paid for by cuts elsewhere, or simply tacked onto the deficit, which is approaching $1.3 trillion.
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