Republicans press Obama to back FEMA funding bill as storm nears

The budget showdown is about to collide with a major weather event.

The House voted Friday to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency, as Republicans cast the bill as an emergency measure to help Americans threatened by the approaching tropical storm.

"This is about people's lives, people's businesses," Rep. Randy Weber, R-Texas, said.

The bill was one of several House Republicans have pushed in recent days to fund chunks of the government amid the partial government shutdown.

They've been pressuring Democrats, with little success, to support these mini-spending measures while the budget impasse drags on. Republicans upped that pressure on Friday, saying disaster response is critical as Tropical Storm Karen tracks toward the Gulf Coast and is poised to hit this weekend.

"When you've got a storm in the Gulf of Mexico, this is not a time for partisanship," Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., said after the vote, flanked by Gulf state lawmakers. Scalise called on President Obama to remove his veto threat and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass the bill in the Senate.

The House voted 247-164 to approve the FEMA spending bill.

The chamber voted later in the day to approve a bill to fund nutrition programs for women, infants and children.

It's part of a strategy by Republicans to pass a series of small bills, effectively daring Democrats to oppose them while simultaneously pressuring them to come to the negotiating table over the broader budget.

In anticipation of Tropical Storm Karen, FEMA has already starting bringing vital employees back to work to deal with the storm. But the administration has threatened to veto the mini-spending bills.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the administration wants to see "the whole government" re-opened -- not just select parts of it.

Plus Carney noted the law allows for FEMA and other employees to be called in for "protecting life and property."

The two sides did agree on one bill Friday afternoon, for the first time since frantic negotiations over the budget broke down on Monday. The White House announced it would support a House spending bill to provide back-pay for furloughed federal workers.

"Federal workers keep the nation safe and secure and provide vital services that support the economic security of American families," the White House said in a statement. "The administration appreciates that the Congress is acting promptly to move this bipartisan legislation and looks forward to the bill's swift passage."

The only other House bill that the Senate has approved and Obama has signed in the last week has been a measure to pay the nation's military. The White House has threatened to veto every other bill.

So far, the House has voted to fund the National Institutes of Health, the National Guard and Reserve, the National Park Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The bill to retroactively pay furloughed workers is on the docket for Saturday.

Though the White House statement in support of that bill could be considered a minor victory for Republicans, it did not signal a breakthrough in talks to re-open the government.

"This bill alone, however, will not address the serious consequences of the funding lapse, nor will a piecemeal approach to appropriations bills," the White House said, calling on the House to approve a catch-all spending bill.

Republicans are continuing to insist that Democrats agree to some concessions on ObamaCare in exchange for such a budget bill.

The White House decision to back the measure for furloughed workers, though, does offer Republicans an opening to ask why the president would support that bill, but not bills to fund such vital agencies like the NIH.

Roughly 800,000 federal workers have been furloughed without pay, and it would take an act of Congress to retroactively pay them for the missed days.

Many more federal employees are working this week without pay -- but under the law, they will automatically get paid once a budget deal is reached.