WASHINGTON – Republicans blocked an effort Monday by Senate Democrats to quickly pass a $7 billion aid package for victims of recent natural disasters like Hurricane Irene, tornadoes in the Midwest and the South and floods along the Mississippi, Missouri and other rivers.
On a 53-33 vote, the Senate rejected an attempt by Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., to bring up a bill that Democrats had hoped to use to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency's depleted disaster fund. Democrats needed 60 votes to advance the measure.
Reid said FEMA has spent almost $400 million in the past two weeks on emergency help like food and shelter following Irene and has only about $300 million left.
President Barack Obama on Friday asked Congress for $500 million to make sure the disaster fund doesn't run out of cash before the end of the month. He also officially asked for $4.6 billion for the upcoming budget year that starts Oct. 1.
Earlier Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said Republicans will attach a disaster aid package to must-pass legislation for keeping the government fully running past Sept. 30. That stopgap spending bill is likely to advance next week.
"They're playing around the edges of what really needs to be done," Reid complained, saying hundreds of millions of dollars is needed to rebuild places like Joplin, Mo., where a tornado in May destroyed more than 7,000 homes and 10 school buildings and killed 159 people.