Democrats, Republicans At Odds Over Stopgap Bill

A federal loan program to build more fuel-efficient cars became the latest budget flash point, with House Republicans wanting to raid the fund to help pay for FEMA disaster aid. Senate Democrats refused to go along. The standoff comes in a bill that would fund the entire government beyond next week.

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MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Another partisan dispute has erupted on Capitol Hill. Once again, the subject is government spending. And one consequence of inaction could be a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends a week from now. Early today, the House narrowly passed its version of a stopgap spending bill, but then, the Senate voted to block that bill. NPR's David Welna gives us the state of play.

DAVID WELNA: After failing earlier this week to pass the stopgap funding measure, House Speaker John Boehner managed to line up barely enough fellow Republicans to get that bill approved very early this morning. Later, at a news conference, he issued marching orders to Congress' upper chamber.

JOHN BOEHNER: It's time for the Senate to move the House passed bill.

WELNA: Boehner pointedly noted the bill includes $3.65 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

BOEHNER: And any delay that occurs because of inaction in the Senate will only imperil needed disaster relief for these thousands of families all across our country.

WELNA: Traditionally, Congress has provided such emergency funding without cutting other parts of the budget to pay for it. But House Republicans insisted on slicing one and a half billion dollars from an electric car loan guarantee program to partially offset the FEMA funding. Democrats cried foul. One of them was Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, who said as many as 50,000 jobs depend on that loan guarantee money.

DEBBIE STABENOW: It is outrageous that the House of Representative, Republicans in the House, have included a job-killing offset to what is an important disaster assistance bill.

WELNA: But Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, accused Congressional Democrats of ignoring widespread demands for greater austerity.

MITCH MCCONNELL: They'd rather just add these funds to the deficit. Why? Because they say that's the way we've always done things around here. Well, I think there's a lesson we can draw from the debates we've been having here over the last six months. It's that the American people won't accept that excuse any longer.

WELNA: Still, Senate Democrats, along with seven Republicans, voted to block the stopgap funding bill. Majority Leader Harry Reid then offered alternative legislation stripped of the contentious offsets for the FEMA funding.

HARRY REID: What we've done averts the government shutdown and will make sure that hundreds of thousands Americans who are suffering in the wake of floods, wildfires and hurricanes get the relief they deserve. But it also maintains our position that we should not have to kill jobs to provide disaster relief to people who need it.

WELNA: Reid scheduled a vote on his version of the bill for Monday evening, which is about when FEMA may run out of money. New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer says Republicans will likely hear from constituents over the weekend about the need to pass that bill.

CHARLES SCHUMER: Our position is let's talk over the weekend. Their position is you take it or leave it. Their approach failed on the Senate floor this morning and it's time for them to change their strategy.

WELNA: But if that strategy does not change, another shutdown showdown could be in store next week. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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