WASHINGTON — The U.S. House is expected to vote Thursday on a six-month stopgap federal budget that includes full FEMA Disaster Relief Fund support in the wake of Hurricane Isaac.
Members of the Louisiana congressional delegation said Wednesday that they expect the spending bill to be approved. The legislation is seen as a compromise to put off working out a federal budget until next year so it is not done during a heated election cycle or during the so-called lame duck session in the nearly two months after the Nov. 6 elections.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said that, while she supports the full Federal Emergency Management Agency funding, she is upset the budget plan yet again does not include any disaster funding for related federal agencies.
“In a disaster, FEMA is naturally the first agency to respond, but it is by no means the only one responsible for a robust and comprehensive recovery,” Landrieu said in a prepared statement. “All of these agencies play a critical role — as we’re seeing just this month in the response to Hurricane Isaac …
“While I’m disappointed that this critical funding was removed from the CR (continuing resolution budget plan), this battle will continue until each agency responsible for disaster recovery has the funding necessary to achieve a commonsense and effective disaster recovery,” she stated.
Landrieu helped lead the effort last year to boost FEMA disaster funds to $7.1 billion and the budget plan would continue that level of funding. But Landrieu bemoaned that Congress is sticking with the practice of only providing disaster funds to other federal agencies until after a disaster strikes.
Landrieu specifically cited the lack of dollars in areas such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ flood control and coastal emergencies disaster fund, the Department of Agriculture’s environmental conservation and environmental watershed protection programs, and the Department of Transportation’s federal highway emergency relief funds.
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said she is politicizing a nonissue because the FEMA funds are all there and because the other agencies can still be funded later if the dollars are needed.
“It’s not a real issue,” Scalise said. “We’ve always funded disasters.”
Scalise also said he supports the idea of delaying the government spending debate six months into next year rather than now or in three months.
“We don’t need one more big issue like the funding of government to be done during a lame-duck session,” Scalise said.
Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, agreed that the nation’s indebtedness is too big of an issue to try to properly address. Early next year should offer a “less heated atmosphere,” he said.
“Just before the presidential debate is not the time to have reasonable public policy debate,” Cassidy said.
As for the disaster funding, Cassidy said it is too soon after Isaac to determine if the federal funding levels will prove adequate.