Government Spending

Government Shutdown Averted to at Least October 1, or Maybe October 4.

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So the latest threat of a federal government shutdown—this one over increasing FEMA spending at the expense of something else—has apparently passed for a while. Because FEMA looked under the couch cushions and realized it can probably get by until the end of the fiscal year, which ends on September 30. That means that a spending bill that was stuck on this issue was passed. Sort of.

Last week, FEMA officials said they expected funds to run out by Tuesday. By Monday, they had changed course and said the $114 million remaining in the Disaster Relief Fund would be enough.

"It's important to remember that these are only estimates and the fund fluctuates due to a number of factors that are beyond our control, including the number of additional disaster survivors who register for assistance, as well as additional survivors that become eligible for assistance," said a FEMA spokesman in an e-mail. "It's also important to remember that this estimate assumes that no new disasters strike between now and when the fund may reach zero."

Whew. There was much rejoicing among senators who otherwise were facing the dread prospect of coming up with so

me way of trimming as little as $1.6 billion from something else in order to pass a spending bill that would have covered more funding for FEMA. Here's the overcooked human egg noodle and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.):

Senators accepted the news gratefully.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky called the agreement "a reasonable way to keep government operational."

But, he added, the Republican principle that "before we spend taxpayers money we should have a real accounting of what's actually needed" is still on the table.

And here's Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a typical understatement and absolutely Costanzanian "jerk-store" line:

"Had we agreed to what the House wanted to do, the next time would people say you had to cut education before you help the earthquake victims," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D) of New York at a press briefing after the vote.

Zing!

But before any of us thinks this story is done, chew on this:

The Senate passed the spending bill, 79 to 12, but with the House in recess and out of Washington, some procedural hurdles remain. To make the Oct. 1 deadline, the House can hold a voice vote in a pro forma session this week – a move that would not require all House members to return to Washington.

But that will extend the government-shutdown deadline only to Oct. 4. To fund government through Nov. 18 will require a vote of the full House when it returns next week. Reports suggest that House leaders are already throwing their support behind the bill.

More here. So let's check back next week and see what's up, right?

This is Greek-level style incompetence. It is not about partisanship or the harsh new tone of politics or anything like that. To pretend that the federal government can't pass budgets is to ignore the fact that they are not presenting budgets for votes in the first place, especially in the hallowed hall of the Senate, where the budget chairman Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) has manifestly failed to do his job for at least the past couple of years. He's supposed to drag some sort of carcass of a budget across something like a finish line, and he hasn't. He's got his excuses why the dog ate his budget but the plain fact is that he completely blew his April 1 deadline for getting a resolution in play. The president put a budget out and so did the House Republicans. Conrad gave a speech. On July 11.

If the government can keep spending absent bipartisan chumminess, they should be able and willing to come up with some sort of plan that adds even the smallest amount of stability to just how much that's going to be.