Lawmakers Appear to Reach Deal to Avoid Govt. Shutdown

UPDATE at 6:38 p.m.:

Some last minute negotiating in the senate has led to a deal that, if all goes according to plan tonight, will avoid a government shutdown until at least November.

Senator Majority Leader Reid announced a series of votes for Monday night.

The first vote is on Democrats’ plan to give FEMA emergency funding for emergency relief, but without any spending cuts elsewhere in the government. That vote will wrap up shortly and is sure to fail.

What’s Plan B?

Reid has filed an additional amendment which is a clean, 6-week funding bill for the federal government. In addition the Senate will vote to pass a one-week government funding bill in case House Speaker John Boehner needs additional time to bring the House back into session to finish the job on the 6-week government funding bill. That bill will include funding for FEMA – $2.65 billion for their emergency fund, far less than originally planned by senate Democrats, but without spending cuts demanded by Republicans.

The Senate is voting now on the first of these three votes. If all goes according to plan, this means that the Senate can wrap this up tonight on their side. It will then be sent to the House of Representatives next. The hope is that the House can pass the whole six-week package by voice vote (ie: unanimously) but the House may only be able to pass the one week extension so that is why the Senate is giving that option to them as well.

The bottom line: movement point tonight to having a road ahead paved for the government to avoid a shutdown – and it could be settled as soon as this evening.

Original Post:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., today chastised the House of Representatives for going home for recess without finishing up the resolution to keep the government and FEMA funded, though he said he was “cautiously optimistic” there would be no government shutdown.

“They left, they’re gone,” Reid said on the Senate floor this afternoon about the House of Representatives. “They’re not in Washington. It’s real hard to negotiate with people who aren’t here. It’s hard to do legislation when one part of our bicameral legislature is not here.”

On a day that was supposed to be the first day of a week-long recess in the Senate for the Rosh Hashanah holiday, Reid indicated that he will proceed as scheduled to the 5:30 p.m. vote on a clean continuing resolution including $3.65 billion in funding for FEMA, without cuts to offset the spending.

“I urge my colleagues to do the right thing and support this good-faith compromise to help disaster victims now,” Reid said, “I’m cautiously optimistic that my Republican colleagues here in the Senate will not force a government shutdown. By not voting for our bill, that’s what it is.”

In his remarks Reid was targeting the 10 Republicans who voted for his FEMA bill with $7 billion in funds, which passed in the Senate but was not taken up in the House.  Reid likely doesn’t have the Republican support for his measure, so it will most likely fail tonight.

So what could happen next?

Members of Congress were told by FEMA this morning that their funds will not run out Tuesday, and that they have enough funds to get through the end of Fiscal Year 2011, which is Friday.

As of this morning, FEMA had $114 million in its account, a spokesperson from FEMA told ABC this morning. Based on the current estimate, a FEMA official says, the agency could nothing left by Thursday at the earliest and Friday at the latest. The update to the money available, the spokesperson says, is because it’s essentially a “moving target day by day,” and a fluid situation. But based on the current estimate they believe they will be funded until the end of the week.

Members of Congress were briefed this morning and told of the latest balance, certainly throwing more cold water on the shutdown possibilities.

So the next move on the Hill could be that Reid could take out the provision in the bill that provides the additional FY11 money, now that it appears FEMA does not need it. Republicans from the beginning have been insisting that FY11 funds be offset, and have already passed a CR that provided FY12 funding for FEMA without additional offsets.

So in essence the stalemate could be over if this happens.  But not yet.