Republicans controlling the House began advancing a $1 billion aid package on Tuesday (May 24) to make sure that disaster relief accounts don't run dry after massive flooding along the Mississippi River and devastating tornadoes in Missouri and Alabama.
The House Appropriations Committee approved the disaster aid cash. The debate over disaster relief highlighted the challenge facing Republicans, who have made clear they intend to cut billions in federal spending yet are under pressure to respond to the extraordinary wave of disasters that has hit the South and Midwest this spring.
Republicans vow that additional disaster aid must be funded by cuts to other programs. The disaster aid package would be financed by a $1.5 billion cut from a loan program to encourage the production of fuel efficient vehicles. That means the new spending wouldn't add to budget deficits.
At the same time, GOP leaders are demanding trillions of dollars in longer-term spending cuts as the price of raising the government's so-called debt limit so that it can continue to borrow to meet its obligations — and avoid a market-rattling, first-ever default on U.S. bonds. Vice President Joe Biden has been at the Capitol for negotiating rounds with lawmakers.
Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) said the additional disaster aid money would make sure that there's enough emergency money for victims of tornadoes in Joplin, Mo., and Alabama and for those suffering from flooding in the Mississippi Basin. Also targeted for the aid are ongoing rebuilding efforts for past disasters like hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Gustav and the massive Tennessee floods of last spring.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, which oversees disaster relief efforts, has plenty of disaster recovery money for immediate needs like food, debris cleanup and temporary shelter. But Aderholt said that this summer FEMA may have to delay grants to cities and counties for rebuilding public infrastructure like schools and sewer systems.