From hurricanes to earthquakes to floods, the last thing the United States needs given the past few weeks is a disastrous Congress. In another episode of Republicans blocking necessary measures that would help the American people, the Senate failed on Monday to approve a funding package for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The Senate needed 60 votes to advance the bill, which would both renew sanctions on Burma and serve as a vehicle for a $7 billion funding package for FEMA. According to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the disaster relief agency has spent almost $400 million in the past two weeks and only has about $300 million left before the new budget year starts Oct. 1. The current budget has proven insufficient in the wake of several natural disasters this year, including tornadoes in the Midwest and Hurricane Irene. FEMA has been providing emergency help like food and shelter to people affected by the storms. On Friday, Obama asked Congress to give the agency $500 million to prevent it from running out of money before the end of the month.
Prior to Monday’s Senate vote, Sen. Reid said, “The only reason someone might be holding up this bill today is because… my friends on the other side of the aisle, the Republicans, don’t want the Senate to vote on disaster assistance.”
Even so, the bill failed 53 to 33. Senators from areas still struggling with flooding from Irene were particularly frustrated with the outcome. They said disasters necessitate swift action, not a drawn-out debate about the deficit while Americans struggle for food and shelter. “No wonder Americans are fed up with Congress when the Republicans make disaster victims pawns in a political game,” said Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.). “The Republicans seem to be willing to go to any length to make the government appear to be dysfunctional and ineffective.”
Republicans who voted against the measure insisted that funding be offset by spending cuts elsewhere. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) used the vote as an opportunity to speak against the amount of money spent on “our numerous nation-building programs overseas.” He said, “America’s priorities should come first.”
But Sen. Paul made this statement before refusing to help people affected by natural disasters, clearly not putting “America’s priorities” above the Republican’s own mission of hurting the federal government at every opportunity.