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In a brutally partisan year, this counts as progress. Congress is closer to avoiding a government shutdown when the fiscal year ends at the end of the week. Republicans and Democrats were tied in knots over a measure to provide disaster funding, as well as fund the broader government. House Republicans refuse to provide the disaster funds unless they were offset by spending cuts elsewhere. Democrats wanted the money without strings attached.
But yesterday, senators from both parties overwhelmingly approved a deal, meaning that the government stays open - all the way from now until mid-November, if the House approves.
NPR's David Welna reports.
DAVID WELNA: Last Friday, the Republican-led House passed a stopgap measure to keep the government from shutting down. Then its members left town for a weeklong break, while their bill went over to the Senate and got tabled by the Democrats who run that chamber. They did not like the fact that disaster relief money in the bill was partially paid for with funds from a loan-guarantee program for manufacturing electric cars.
So to avoid a shutdown, Majority Leader Harry Reid asked his Senate colleagues to come back to Washington yesterday and vote for a bill identical to that of the House, except this one made no spending cuts to pay for disaster relief. Reid opened the Senate session heaping scorn on the House.
Senator HARRY REID: The House of Representatives, as we speak, on the eve of the government shutting down next Saturday, just a few days from now, and FEMA on the verge of having no money, they left. They're gone. They're not in Washington.
WELNA: Dick Durbin, the Senate's number-two Democrat, said he'd spent the weekend in his home state of Illinois, where he said people are fed up with Congress.
Senator DICK DURBIN: When they see us break down into another cussing match over shutting down the government, they say for goodness sakes, grow up.
WELNA: Durbin said the Senate had decided to act like grown-ups and deal with preventing a shutdown. And Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu said she was sorry this interrupted the Senate's plans to be out all week.
Senator MARY LANDRIEU: I know it's inconvenient for members to have to come back this week. I know people wanted to be away this week to work in their districts. But this is an argument and a debate worth having.
WELNA: Perhaps, but once Republicans voted to block his version of the stopgap spending bill, Majority Leader Reid revealed that a bipartisan deal had been worked out.
REID: It's only worth fighting when there's something to fight for. We've basically resolved this issue, Mr. President.
WELNA: The deal was based on the revelation yesterday that FEMA would not need a billion dollars in disaster money after all, to keep relief efforts going this week. So that money was dropped from the bill. And in turn, the House Republicans' offset of a billion-and-a-half dollars worth of spending cuts was also dropped.
Senator MITCH MCCONNELL: In my view, this entire fire drill was completely and totally unnecessary.
WELNA: That was Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell's take on this latest shutdown saga. He also had withering words for FEMA and its earlier claims that disaster relief funds could be all used up as early as today.
MCCONNELL: Quite frankly, I think this is a vindication of what Republicans have been saying all along: Before we spend the taxpayers' money, we should have a real accounting, a real accounting, of what is actually needed.
WELNA: But it was the Democrats who crowed victory last night, after the Senate then voted 79 to 12 for a stopgap funding measure that included more than two-and-a-half-billion dollars for FEMA's disaster relief fund. And not one penny was cut from any other federal program to offset the FEMA money.
New York Democrat Charles Schumer said requiring such an offset would have set a bad precedent.
Senator CHARLES SCHUMER: Had we agreed to what the House wanted to do, the next time, say there victims of an earthquake, would people have said you have to cut education before we help the earthquake victims?
WELNA: The deal the Senate approved would keep the federal government funded through mid-November. But as majority leader Reid noted, the House still has to approve that deal.
REID: Now, I hope the House is going to come back from their little break here and complete this work as fast as they can. It's certainly something the country needs. I can't understand how they possibly could have any question about what they need to do now.
WELNA: A spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner would only say that the funding measure will be discussed with members.
David Welna, NPR news, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.