WASHINGTON DIGEST: Senate votes $6.9 billion to replenish disaster aid

WASHINGTON — The Senate last week approved $6.9 billion in disaster aid to replenish federal accounts that have been drained by damages caused by hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding.

Senators voted 62-37 for the bill, following debate over whether the new spending should be paid for by cuts in other programs.

The disaster bill formed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., designated the funds as emergency spending not requiring an offset.

Reid said the bill was urgent because the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s main disaster account risked running out of money for a few days at the end of the month, while claims mount from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee that wracked the East Coast in the past month.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., joined Reid in voting for the bill.

Voting 20-78, senators defeated an amendment by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., that would have cut spending for foreign aid to pay for the assistance.

Reid voted against the amendment. Heller did not vote.

An amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., was killed. It would have directed the Obama administration to find savings by terminating what auditors found to be overlapping federal programs.

Coburn’s amendment needed 60 votes to advance. It fell short, 54-45. Heller voted for it, while Reid voted against it.

The House was moving in another direction on disaster aid. Republican leaders have attached $3.7 billion in aid to a separate bill that will be considered next week.

FAA SHUTDOWN AVERTED

The Senate averted a cutoff in aviation and highway funding by completing a bill that extends the authorization for federal transportation programs.

Senators voted 92-6 to renew authority for the Federal Aviation Administration after a flurry of negotiations ahead of a Friday deadline. The deal averted the second partial shutdown of the agency since July.

The bill also extended surface transportation programs that distribute funding to states for roads and mass transit. Those were due to expire at the end of the month.

The talks persuaded Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to drop a last-minute objection. He wanted to remove a requirement that states spend a portion of federal highway money on footpaths and bicycle lanes. He argued that road and bridge repairs were more important at a time when money is tight.

But any late changes would have put the bill at risk of missing the expiration deadline. Democratic leaders promised Coburn action on his demand at a later date.

Reid and Heller voted for the bill.

HOUSE VOTES WOULD CLIP LABOR BOARD

The Republican-controlled House passed a bill 238-186 to clip the authority of the National Labor Relations Board.

The bill was proposed in response to a complaint filed by the board in April seeking to block Boeing Corp.’s expansion in South Carolina.

The National Labor Relations Board alleged that Boeing decided to open in the nonunion state in retaliation for labor strikes at its plant in Washington.

Boeing employees have gone on strike five times since 1977, including a 58-day walkout in 2008.

The legislation would prohibit the board from ordering a company to open, close or relocate its business.

Republicans argued the board’s action would chill efforts by right-to-work states to recruit new businesses, and discourage firms from relocating there.

Democrats said it would give companies the green light to punish workers by threatening to ship jobs elsewhere.

Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against it.

The Democratic-controlled Senate is unlikely to take up the bill.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

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