Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Senate Deal Clears Way for Stopgap Spending Bill

Related Links: Delayed FEMA Projects, Listed by State

Thanks to another near-the-deadline deal in the Senate, Congress seems to be on the way to averting a government-wide shutdown and replenishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s nearly empty disaster-aid fund.

On Sept. 26, the Senate approved a short-term spending measure that, if the House agrees to it, will keep federal agencies operating through Nov. 18.

The new stopgap, which the Senate passed by a strong 79-12 vote, also would provide $2.65 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund.

The Senate action on the continuing resolution, or CR, came just four days before the 2011 federal fiscal year’s end, at midnight on Sept. 30. If no 2012 funds were appropriated by that time, federal agencies would have had to shut down.

Before the 2012 money can start to flow, approval by the House is required. Although the House was on a recess until Oct. 3, it had slated a pro-forma session for Sept. 29. The hope was that the chamber would pass the seven-week Senate bill at that time.

However, as a backup, the Senate also cleared a small stopgap that extends only through Oct. 4, hoping the House would approve at least that four-day CR by Oct. 1 and then clear the seven-week CR by Oct. 4.

The two Senate-approved stopgaps would fund federal construction programs and other agency activities at slightly less than their 2011 levels, based on the overall 2012 discretionary-spending cap set by the Budget Control Act.

The new, almost-final CR is the latest in a series of funding headaches for design and construction companies that pursue federal projects. For many months, those firms have had to weather the uncertainties caused by multiple short-term appropriations stopgaps as well as a series of extensions for highway, transit and airport authorizations.

The end of stopgap funding is not yet in sight, however. Congress will have to approve another spending measure by Nov. 18. If this year’s bitter partisan fights over 2011 appropriations, the Budget Control Act and an aviation authorization are any guide, a sudden d├ętente between Democrats and Republicans is unlikely.

A key to the Senate deal was FEMA’s ability to conserve spending from its Disaster Relief Fund, which has been strained by a wave of summer disasters, including Hurricane Irene in the East and wildfires in Texas.