Sen. Whitehouse On Disaster Funding: Take That, Tea Party!

Democrats are hoping Republicans’ more conciliatory spirit displayed Monday night to avert a government shutdown over disaster aid is a sign of shifting political winds after August’s debt showdown that resulted in Standard & Poor downgrading the nation’s creditworthiness.

After the vote last night to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency through November, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) told TPM he hopes the Senate’s agreement to pass a compromise bill sends a message to Tea Party House GOP members that the do-or-die brinkmanship has got to go.

“I think we were less close to the precipice this time,” he said. “I think there was a little bit more anxiety on the part of the GOP to go there, and I hope it sends a message back to the House and the Tea Party that the Senate is not going to be amenable to this stuff anymore.”In the end, Republicans didn’t have the will to keep holding disaster relief funds hostage to offsets and risk shutting down the government and withholding funds to relief victims. Republicans and Democrats were playing a bit of chicken with the disaster relief funds, daring each other to be the one left holding the bag and depriving victims of assistance for days or even weeks.

Each side thought FEMA would run out of funds by early this week, forcing Democrats to accept budget cuts or face the threat of denying aid to victim. But FEMA announced Monday that it wouldn’t run out of funds early this week, making the gamesmanship ineffective.

White House spokesman Jay Carney spent the day lecturing Congress to get its act together.

“This is a basic function of Congress,” he said. “They ought to be able to handle this basic responsibility. A funding level was set in an agreement reached during the debt ceiling crisis — a crisis, which, by the way, was completely manufactured by the same faction of House Republicans — but that funding level was set. It should not be so difficult. Nor should the essential assistance to victims of terrible natural disasters be held up for political reasons or ideological reasons.”

Carney also referred to a story in the New York Times about flood victims who “are just fed up with Washington, making them very much like the rest of the American people who are absolutely fed up with the dysfunction in Washington.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) seemed to sum it up nicely after the vote when he said voters are sick of the Washington high jinks.

“Americans are tired of the gridlock and games in Washington, and so am I,” Blunt said. “As I’ve continually said, I support the fastest way to get federal aid to the people who need help in the wake of devastating disasters in Missouri and elsewhere.”

But then Blunt pivoted sharply, by rejecting the compromise forged late in the day, proving yet again, that not all Republicans are on board with the idea of yielding and working across the aisle just yet.

“Tonight, I voted against these two bills because they would delay the process by punting back to the House,” he said in a statement. “The second bill also stripped $1 billion in disaster relief and provides less emergency funding for Missourians in the wake of record flooding and tornadoes.”

“I support the House-passed continuing resolution, which I had hoped the Senate would have sent to the President’s desk in order to get this disaster assistance to the people who need it now.”