On disaster bill, Schumer worries about setting bad precedent if his party agrees to House offset demands

Charles Schumer. (Reid Pillifant)
Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

At his Sunday press conference this week, Senator Charles Schumer made the case for a Senate compromise on disaster relief, which mirrors the spending level in a House bill that passed last week, except without the accompanying cuts that some Republicans have insisted upon.

"If we start the precedent that every time there's a disaster, that you're going to have to cut education money or technology money, disasters will never get funded," he said. "In this country, we've had a tradition, when an area is hit by a disaster we all pull together."

Last week, Republicans passed a bill that provided $3.6 billion in disaster relief, partially offset by a billion-dollar cut to a green technology program favored by Democrats. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's bill, which the Senate will take up Monday night, when it was scheduled to be on recess, mirrors the amount of disaster relief in the House bill, but without that billion-dollar cut.

"The money they took out is job money," Schumer said this morning. "And why are we telling America that you have a choice, creating new jobs or helping disaster victims? That's wrong."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Schumer said FEMA will run out of money sometime this week unless Congress can agree on a bill. He was unsure of the exact amount the state needs to recover from Hurricane Irene, but cited Schoharie County as an example of the importance of federal aid.

"The whole reason the government has stepped in is because the localities can't bear the burden," he said. "I've visited these places. Little Schocharie County has lost so many bridges that if the federal government didn't come in, those bridges would not be fixed for decades and the county would fall apart because you couldn't get from here to there."

The House bill initially failed, in a rebuke by Tea Party-affiliated Republican members to Speaker John Boehner, but an amended version passed a day later when Republicans added an additional $100 million cut, to the federal grant program that helped pay for the controversial solar-panel manufacturer Solyndra.

Schumer argued that the Senate bill was bipartisan everywhere but the House, where he blamed 100 or so Republicans for holding a deal hostage.

"This is a position that is bipartisan," he said. "We have sent FEMA aid to the House without cutting the jobs. That was passed with bipartisan support. Ten Republicans voted for it ... The Republican governor of New Jersey and the governor of Virginia, also Republican, said to the House Republicans, 'Stop doing this.' So this is something again that you have a small group sort of holding up everything for their own ideological purposes."

The bill carries the added burden of funding the federal government after October 1, raising the prospect, once again, of a government shutdown.

"I believe there won't be, because I believe cooler heads will prevail," Schumer said.