Senate Reaches Deal to Avert Government Shutdown

September 27, 2011

By , The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Senate reached a bipartisan spending agreement on Monday to avert a government shutdown, sidestepping a bitter impasse over disaster financing after federal authorities said they could most likely squeak though the rest of this week with the $114 million they have on hand.

After blocking one Democratic proposal, the Senate voted, 79 to 12, to approve a straightforward seven-week extension of funding for government agencies that were due to run out of money at the end of Friday, simultaneously replenishing accounts at the Federal Emergency Management Agency that this summer’s string of natural disasters nearly exhausted.

“It shows us the way out,” said Senator Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, who said the plan should be satisfactory to both Democrats and Republicans. “It means we no longer have to fight.”

The discovery by FEMA that it had money for the week was the key to the breakthrough since it eliminated one of the main points of partisan contention: whether to offset a quick infusion of funds to the agency with cuts elsewhere as House Republicans had insisted. Democrats in both the House and Senate had resisted that approach, saying it would set a bad precedent.

While the Senate actions appeared to head off a government shutdown for a second time this year, the embarrassing fight over disaster aid pulled into sharp relief both the enduring, sinewy power of the Tea Party — and its deep impact on fiscal policy through an attempt to set a new template for disaster aid distribution — and Democrats’ revived pugnacity as they press President Obama’s jobs plan through next year’s elections.

To ease potential objections, the Senate also passed, in a voice vote, a measure that would extend government funding for just four days to allow time to work out the longer-term agreement when the House returns next week.

The House, whose members are back in their districts for a week’s recess, would have to sign off on any bill to keep the government running after the end of the fiscal year, since the Senate rejected the House Republican plan last week.

Senate officials hoped they could win quick consent on the four-day solution in a pro forma session of the House this week, calculating that House leaders would not want to be blamed for causing a shutdown by failing to consider a plan that received strong Senate support. But that was no certainty, because the consent of all lawmakers would be required, and 24 House Republicans last week rejected their own leaders’ spending bill for having too few cuts.

Democrats said they expected the House Republicans to concur with the Senate’s overall solution. “It is hard to see how House Republicans would reject this proposal,” said Senator Charles Schumer of New York, the number-three Democrat in the Senate.

Even as they approved the funding arrangement, members of both parties said the fight had gone too far and that the issue should have been resolved without such political pain.

“In my view, this entire fire-drill was completely unnecessary,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader. “But I’m glad a resolution now appears to be at hand.”

As the Senate headed for its showdown, FEMA and administration budget officials informed lawmakers that the agency would likely be able to make disaster relief payments through the rest of the week. Mr. Reid’s staff then reached out to House Speaker John A. Boehner to discuss a short-term solution.

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