Congress plays politics with storm response agencies

As Tropical Storm Karen moved closer to southeastern Louisiana during a government shutdown, the GOP-controlled U.S. House passed piecemeal legislation that would reopen FEMA.

Democratic critics quickly denounced the legislation as Republicans playing political “games” a day after the White House authorized returning emergency workers to work from their furloughs at the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other impacted agencies.

The White House is issuing veto threats on the House’s piecemeal spending bills.

U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, was one of the Republicans to take to the House floor to speak in favor of the FEMA appropriations bill that passed on a 247 to 164 vote with 23 Democrats in support. “We cannot sacrifice the security of those along the Gulf Coast,” Cassidy said.

The U.S. Senate is not taking up the piecemeal spending bills passed by the House and the Democratic leadership is urging the House to instead vote for a “clean” budget stopgap to reopen all of the government.

U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-New Orleans, said he voted against the FEMA bill because it accomplishes nothing.

Richmond on Thursday morning wrote to the White House asking for the return to work of all needed emergency personnel and the request was quickly granted.

“It’s still politics and it’s still games to them,” Richmond said of House Republicans. “Let’s just get things done, and it’s not going to get done with legislation and these games.”

“One, it’s misleading to the American people,” Richmond said of the FEMA bill. “Two, we’re wasting time. We’re wasting money.”

Richmond said House Republicans need to support the “clean” budget stopgap and “get everyone back to work.”

U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, called on the president to remove his veto threat on the FEMA bill “at a time when a storm is bearing down on us in the Gulf.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., urged House Republicans to reopen all of government to help all the agencies that respond to storms, like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Interior Department, the U.S. Geological Survey, the Small Business Administration and more.

Cassidy argued that Republicans want to reopen the government but that Democrats refuse to accept any changes to the Affordable Care Act. Cassidy specifically mentioned the most recent House proposal that involved delaying the health-care law’s individual mandate and another amendment that would force congressional staffers, members of Congress and the president to lose their employer health insurance contributions.

Cassidy said members of Congress just want their “special deal.”

U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., first proposed the amendment to take away the health care subsidies of Congress and their staffers in what he calls a “no exemptions” plan.

Proponents said the amendment creates fairness by forcing Congress and rank-and-file staffers to get their insurance on the new health-care exchanges without any federal government employer contribution just as the “Obamacare” law intended.

Critics call it a poison pill that punishes congressional staffers with a de facto pay cut.

As U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said of the proposal, “Sen. Vitter grandstands. He does a good job of that.”

Landrieu also criticized the FEMA bill passed Friday by the House.

“Preparing for and responding to disasters is a team effort between numerous federal agencies, state governments and local officials,” Landrieu said. “The House seems to have forgotten this by choosing to fund only one member of that team — FEMA — and keeping others like the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers benched.”

Vitter met with Corps of Engineers officials Friday though and said they are ready for the storm with their essential and emergency workers.

“I can absolutely confirm that every person and all resources that the corps will need to protect the Gulf from this storm are ready and available,” Vitter said. “There is no negative impact trickling down from the government shutdown, and the corps’ preparation for Tropical Storm Karen will not be compromised in any way.”