JEFFREY BROWN: And now to another political update, this one back here in Washington, as an agreement between Senate Democrats and House Republicans on a short-term government funding measure appeared near.
The Senate is scheduled to vote tonight on a bill that would keep the government operating through Nov. 18.
NewsHour political editor David Chalian is here with the latest.
So, headline, crisis averted for now?
DAVID CHALIAN: Crisis averted for now. That’s exactly right, Jeff.
JEFFREY BROWN: OK.
DAVID CHALIAN: This Friday, the funding — the end of the fiscal year arrives. And there was nothing in place as the beginning of the next fiscal year was to get started on Saturday.
So what they’re doing is funding the government for a short term, until Nov. 18, in order to work out all the negotiations for how they want to fund everything for the rest of the year. But what was keeping the sort of tied up in knots was the disaster aid for FEMA funding, because FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, wasn’t sure that it was going to be able to make it through this week.
JEFFREY BROWN: And this is after a very tough summer of disasters, natural disasters around the country.
DAVID CHALIAN: All around the country, with floods, tornadoes, hurricanes.
JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.
DAVID CHALIAN: And so, of course, that plays very tough politically for a lot of folks to play around with disaster funding, because nobody likes to be seen as not on the side of people who are in pain and need aid.
JEFFREY BROWN: Right.
But it came down to not so much — nobody is against the aid, right? It was over how to pay for the aid.
DAVID CHALIAN: Precisely, as everything in Washington is these days, about spending and too much government spending.
And, so, you’re right. Nobody wanted to look on the side — and nobody was against the aid. Every bill, House Republican bills, Senate Democratic bills, that had been going back and forth for the last couple of weeks had lots of aid funding in there. The House Republicans last week passed a bill that said, though, to get FEMA through the rest of fiscal year 2011, if we are going to provide them more money, that needs to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
The Democrats said no, that the country cannot be in a place where you can’t predict disasters. You never know when somebody is going to need disaster aid. And you can’t have a debate about what to cut elsewhere at a time when people need immediate aid. So they said there shouldn’t be offsets when we’re talking about disaster aid. It has not been the norm in the country for there to be such offsets. Today…yes.
JEFFREY BROWN: But that happened, and suddenly there was an impasse.
Was everybody surprised? I mean, suddenly, there was again the question of a government shutdown.
DAVID CHALIAN: Well, nobody wanted a shutdown to come. And they knew — people on both sides that I spoke to on Capitol Hill said at all costs they were going to avert it because they understand how angry the public is.
But what happened today to ease the path to avoid the shutdown was that FEMA announced they actually had enough money to get through this week. Well, once they said that they had enough money to get through this week, the whole battle of offsetting costs to extend their funding for this week disappeared.
Nobody was fighting about the money that was starting to be spent this coming Saturday. That’s where there was agreement. So now the Senate will pass this bill. The House will have to pass the identical measure. And they will be able to avert the shutdown.
But the politics of this, Jeff, it would have been disastrous for members of Congress to get up to the deadline again, another clock on cable news channel counting down to a shutdown. It would rattle the markets and it would bring wrath from the voters, who clearly have said they want…
JEFFREY BROWN: Clearly. Clearly. And if they needed any more evidence, there was yet another poll today.
DAVID CHALIAN: Another poll today from Gallup this morning saying that people feel the government is more incompetent than ever. They are angrier at their government than they have ever been. And so they’re not immune to this, these members of Congress. They see this and they understand it.
It’s why we have heard a new tone in Washington. And as soon as it started getting to this idea of countdown to the shutdown or a shutdown showdown, I think everyone, Democrats and Republicans alike, were looking very quickly for a path out. FEMA provided one today.
JEFFREY BROWN: Because of course looming out there are much bigger, much, much bigger issues, right?
DAVID CHALIAN: Much bigger issues, long-term issues for the next 10 years about our fiscal stability.
JEFFREY BROWN: All right, David Chalian, thanks again.
DAVID CHALIAN: Sure. My pleasure.