FEMA Shutdown Showdown Might Solve Itself

Will the Budget Showdown Solve Itself?

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A brewing standoff and possible government shutdown may end up solving itself. According to the Washington Post, the Federal Emergency Management Agency may be able to stay open with its current funding until the end of the week, meaning it would get to October 1, the beginning of the 2012 fiscal year.

How would this solve the problem? The possibility of a government shutdown arose when the parties butted heads over whether additional funding for FEMA, to help pay for relief due to Hurricane Irene, should be offset with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. Democrats say no, Republicans say yes, and neither party shows any sign of budging. But the parties are mostly in agreement about how much money FEMA should get in the new fiscal year. The spending limits put into place by this summer's debt ceiling deal include funding for disasters, and the continuing resolution which the House approved includes $2.65 billion in disaster funding reflecting that agreement. The conflict lay in the possibility of FEMA running out of cash before the new fiscal year, and Congress having to pony up to bridge the gap. If the agency can survive until Friday, the issue would be moot and the House could presumably pass a noncontroversial continuing resolution to keep the government open until full year appropriations are mad.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

But it's not quite time to breathe a sigh of relief yet. First of all, there's some skepticism on the Hill that FEMA really could make it throughout the week without additional funding. It's also not clear whether the party leaders will allow this to change their strategy, or push ahead with their current bills. The Senate is still set to vote on a Democratic bill, which does not include offsets, this evening. Democratic lawmakers are scrambling to convince enough Republican moderates to push the bill beyond the crucial 60-vote threshold needed to pass the Senate. If it does pass, then its future would be unclear, as House Republicans are sticking to the bill which they passed through that chamber last week, and includes offsets.