House disaster vote sets up showdown with Senate

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WASHINGTON (AP) — The No. 2 Republican in the House said Wednesday the GOP-controlled chamber remains on track to pass $3.7 billion in disaster relief as part of a must-pass bill to avert a government shutdown at the end of the month, but first the party must overcome opposition from Democrats and some tea party Republicans.

Democratic leaders — including some who said last week they would back the stopgap measure — came out solidly against it Wednesday morning because it contains $1.5 billion in cuts from a government loan program to help car companies build more-fuel-efficient vehicles. That money would pay for the most urgently needed portion of the disaster aid that’s required to avoid a cutoff next week of Federal Emergency Management Agency relief to victims of Hurricane Irene, recent Texas wildfires and Tropical Storm Lee.

GOP leaders also are encountering opposition from tea party Republicans such as Rep. Jeffrey M. Landry of Louisiana who oppose the stopgap measure because it permits a higher spending rate than Republicans proposed this spring. The measure instead follows a hard-fought spending pact endorsed by GOP leaders and President Obama.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, predicted Wednesday that the stopgap measure, commonly called a continuing resolution, or CR, will pass and head over to the Senate, where a battle with Democrats awaits.

“What you’ll see today is a CR that will pass the House,” Mr. Cantor said.

The fight with Senate Democrats involves how much disaster aid to provide and whether any of it should be paid for with offsetting spending cuts. FEMA has only a few days’ worth of aid remaining in its disaster relief fund, and an infusion of cash is needed by early next week. FEMA already has held up thousands of longer-term rebuilding projects such as repairs to sewer systems, parks, roads and bridges to conserve money to provide emergency relief to victims of recent disasters.

The House measure contains $1 billion in immediate aid for the 2011 budget year that’s about to end and another $2.7 billion for the 2012 budget year beginning next month. The Senate measure totals $6.9 billion, with $804 million proposed for the last few days of fiscal 2011.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said that once the stopgap measure passes the House, he’ll move to substitute the Senate’s more generous aid package for the House’s version. It will take at least seven Republicans to join with majority Democrats to win the 60 votes likely required to defeat GOP blocking tactics. Ten Republicans voted with Mr. Reid last week to pass the stand-alone disaster aid measure, but their votes can’t be taken for granted now. Tea party favorites such as Sens. Marco Rubio, Florida Republican, and Patrick J. Toomey, Pennsylvania Republican, were among those who voted with Mr. Reid last week, but the partially paid-for House version may be more to their liking.

In the House, Democrats are rallying against the measure because of accompanying cuts to an Energy Department program that subsidizes low-interest loans to help car companies and parts manufacturers retool factories to build vehicles that will meet new, tougher fuel economy standards. These lawmakers include House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, and Rep. Norm Dicks, Washington Democrat, who is his party’s top Appropriations Committee member. Both congressmen previously said they would support the measure.

Democrats say cutting the loan program could cost up to 10,000 jobs because there wouldn’t be enough money for all pending applications.

“While the government has a responsibility to fund disaster response in places that were devastated by Hurricane Irene or other natural disasters, it is unconscionable to use funds designed to create jobs in manufacturing states to pay for it,” Reps. Gary Peters, Michigan Democrat, and Anna G. Eshoo, California Democrat, said in a letter to House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican.

They credited $3.5 billion of loan subsidies with supporting loans totaling $9.2 billion that created or saved 41,000 jobs in Tennessee, California, Indiana, Michigan, Delaware, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. already have received loans; Chrysler Group LLC is awaiting final approval of a loan.

A protracted showdown ultimately could lead to a partial shutdown of the government when the budget year ends Sept. 30. That’s unlikely, however.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, predicted the conflict could be worked out in time for the Senate to make a Thursday-night getaway to a weeklong recess. Such a scenario probably depends on Republicans prevailing.

“Congress always responds appropriately to disasters,” Mr. McConnell said. “We’re having a discussion about the appropriate way to do that, and I’m confident it will be resolved.”

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