The federal agency responsible for managing emergencies nearly created one itself when its funding ignited a congressional battle that almost shut down all government operations.
The trouble began when the Obama administration told Congress that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) didn’t have enough money to keep operating during the last week of the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, reigniting what critics say has become a pattern of Democratic obstructionism to prevent Republicans from cutting spending.
But this time Senate Democrats were almost left holding the bag when the funding clock ran out for FEMA Monday night and not only had Democrats blocked the Republican measure, but their own bill failed to pass as well.
Then a curious thing happened — FEMA said they could scrape by with $114 million they discovered through some creative accounting.
“In my view, this entire fire-drill was completely unnecessary,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.–Ky.).
“Quite frankly, I think this is a vindication of what Republicans have been saying all along: Before we spend the taxpayers’
money, we should have a real accounting of what’s actually needed,” McConnell said.
It was former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel who set the tone in Washington just days after Barack Obama was elected president: “Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste. They are opportunities to do big things,” Emanuel said.
And Democrats have since used those opportunities to create crises and push for big spending and bigger tax increases.
This year alone there have been three shut-down-the-government crises after Republicans tried to rein in spending only to be met with obstructionist tactics by Democrats who control two-thirds of the government from the Senate to the White House.
An agreement in April to keep the government operating for six months was literally reached at the 11th hour narrowly averting a shut down. In that politically charged debate Senate Democrats blocked House Republicans who wanted to cut spending by $61 billion. In the end, an agreement was reached to cut $38 billion plus a restriction on abortion financing in Washington.
“In democracy, you compromise,” observed Rep. Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.).
In August the Republicans tried to force a Balanced Budget Amendment vote as part of an agreement that ultimately increased the government’s borrowing authority by $2.4 trillion.
Senate Democrats refused to even consider the Republican proposal, which was also tied to spending cuts, and instead backed tax increases. The rhetorical war escalated, and at one point Vice President Joe Biden reportedly told the Democratic caucus the process was obstructed by Republicans who he said were “acting like terrorists.”
In the latest spending battle, Congress needed to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep government operating when the fiscal year ends on Friday. Although House Republicans have passed six of the annual appropriation measures, only one of the bills has passed the Senate.
But the process was complicated after FEMA said it needed billions of dollars right away to pay for disaster aid related to recent tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, wildfires and earthquakes.
The Republican agreement said FEMA could have $3.65 billion right away and that $1.6 billion would be offset by $100 million from the guaranteed loan program that funded Solyndra, which filed for bankruptcy last month and is under investigation by the FBI, and the rest from a program with unused funds designated for the manufacture of environmentally friendly cars.
But Democrats wanted to give FEMA nearly $7 billion this week, with no offsets to the deficit because they said it would set a dangerous precedent.
Rep. Hal Rogers (R.–Ky.), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, called it “the ultimate in irresponsibility” and a “government subsidy to bailout the auto industry.”
“The American people are sick and tired of political games,” Rogers said after Senate Democrats killed their measure Friday night.
“Shutting down the government and cutting off essential programs that our people rely on is bad enough, but leaving disaster stricken families and communities in the lurch in their hour of greatest need is simply reprehensible. Leader Reid and his colleagues in the Senate will have much to answer for if they don’t reverse course and pass the responsible, bipartisan House CR that will keep the lights on in government and provide this much-needed disaster relief,” Rogers said.
But Democrats blamed Republicans for the latest fiscal mess.
“Republicans held it up for their political agenda,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D.–N.Y.).
After FEMA let Democrats off the hook, however, the Senate passed a “clean” CR Monday with no strings attached, that would only keep the government operating across the board until both Houses can get all spending measures passed in November.
“It’s a win for everyone,” declared Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.).