Dems Float Resolution To Government Shutdown Fight

The food fight between the parties continues. But Democrats see a way out of the latest government shutdown fight — it’s just a question of timing, and, of course, Republican cooperation.

Earlier Monday, we learned that FEMA’s disaster relief fund had a bit more money in it than officials expected it would late last week. It’s possible, even, that the agency will be able to make it through September 30 (the end of the fiscal year) without needing an emergency cash injection.

If it can, then the grounds for this fight disappear. Here’s why:We’re faced with a government shutdown because Republicans included in their government funding bill a requirement that emergency funds for FEMA be offset with a partisan budget cut to a successful hybrid vehicle manufacturing incentive.

But — and this is key, even though it flirts with the boring budget process — that cut was meant to offset only the “emergency” funds — the $1 billion House Republicans agreed to include in its bill to make sure FEMA’s account didn’t run dry before the end of the fiscal year on Friday.

If it doesn’t run dry. Then the $1 billion — and thus the offsets — becomes moot. At least that’s what Democrats argue. And they have plenty of GOP comments to point to in support of this view. Take, for instance, House Appropriations Committee chairman Hal Rogers (R-KY):

“The 2012 monies are not offset,” Rogers told the House Rules Committee. “The 2012 monies are covered in a provision of the debt ceiling legislation that passed, that allows us a fund of money of anticipated disasters…. [T]hat amount of money is available without being offset.”

So if we get to the end of September 30 (the beginning of fiscal year 2012) then the offsets become irrelevant — indeed, insisting on them would be a violation of the spirit (if not the letter) of the debt limit deal.

All things being equal, it would be best for the FEMA issue, and the funding of the government, to be resolved sooner or later. FEMA’s precariously close to running out of money, and the sooner they get their funds the sooner they can restart stalled projects. But the critical questions now appear to be whether they’ll need any money before Friday and, if that’s the case, what happens to the offset demand. We’ll let you know what Republicans say about this as soon as possible.

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