The standoff this time is over money to refill the nation’s disaster emergency fund, which is fast dwindling from record costs for hurricane, flood and earthquake relief. The amount for the fund is a mere sliver of the overall $1.043 trillion federal discretionary budget for next year.
With the issue still unsettled, House Republicans began leaving Washington on Friday for a week’s recess after passing a measure that included $3.65 billion for the disaster fund. But they insisted that the costs be partly offset by cutting $1 billion from a valuable loan program, dear to jobs-minded Democrats, to develop energy-efficient automobiles. Senate Democrats have approved a more realistic $6.9 billion for the disaster fund, but without offsetting cuts, which traditionally are not required for emergency aid.
Congress’s failure to perform its most basic legislative duty is distressing. Republican lawmakers are resorting to the same destructive brinksmanship that created the harrowing crisis over raising the debt limit this past summer. Credit Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, for making the first move toward compromise in facing down these budget-slashing ideologues. He ordered a Monday session, despite Congressional recess plans, and offered to meet the House halfway by accepting its $3.65 billion limit if Speaker John Boehner could persuade his side to drop the unacceptable offsets. (Even the United States Chamber of Commerce opposes requiring offsets for disaster aid.)
This is a sound compromise, but there was no immediate sign of common sense from Mr. Boehner, who often seems as much a hostage to the budget zealots as the rest of government operations that they are pushing into crisis. What is galling is that few politicians seriously believe that disaster aid will not be financed in this election season — so the fight is nothing but posturing.
Even if a compromise is reached to avoid next week’s shutdown, it will cover only seven weeks of funding, from Oct. 1 to Nov. 18. What comes after that? More of the same Republican intransigence?