More storms ahead for disaster aid bill

The Senate on Friday defeated an emergency spending bill that would replenish the nearly-empty coffers of the federal Disaster Relief Fund and keep the government open for the first few weeks of fiscal year 2012, which starts Oct. 1.

The action puts Congress closer to a disaster of its own, with the fallout being a possible government shut-down and a cash-flow crisis at the Federal Emergency Management Agency as it struggles to respond to Tropical Storm Irene and other recent events.

The disaster aid bill, drafted by House Republicans, barely squeaked through the House on Friday just after midnight. When it moved to the Senate, Democrats and a few Republicans handily killed it. Both of Connecticut’s U.S. Senators, Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat, and Joseph Lieberman, an independent, voted against the measure.

The GOP bill would provide $1 billion to immediately refill FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and another $2.65 billion for fiscal year 2012. GOP leaders insisted on offsetting the cost of the extra disaster relief aid with a $1.5 billion cut to a loan program to encourage the manufacture of energy-efficient cars.

Democrats have said the amount of disaster aid in the House GOP bill is inadequate and they’ve strongly objected to the loan program cut, noting that disaster aid usually sails through Congress without such offsets. Some conservative Republicans, meanwhile, opposed the bill because they want a lower spending level set for fiscal year 2012.

Lawmakers were scrambling Friday afternoon to resolve the impasse. But the path forward looks stormy at best.