By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- A nearly empty House on Thursday passed a stopgap spending measure to avert a government shutdown this weekend and refill disaster aid coffers drained by a series of recent storms, fires and tornadoes.
The measure passed the House with the unanimous permission of all members present in a chamber that was nearly deserted because Congress is on vacation. It now goes to the White House for President Barack Obama's signature. Just three lawmakers were there in a session that last all of five minutes: Rep. Andy Harris, R-Md., who presided; Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, who offered the motion to pass the bill; and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, who represented Democrats.
The compromise measure, which passed the Senate Monday night, provides $2.7 billion in disaster aid, less than both Democrats and Republicans had hoped for. The disaster funding was cut back by $1 billion after a battle over whether that portion of the aid should have been "paid for" with spending cuts to clean energy programs favored by Democrats.
Republicans had insisted on requiring cuts to a loan guarantee program benefiting the auto industry to offset the most urgently needed portion of disaster aid – $1 billion in funding to prevent the Federal Emergency Management Agency from running out of disaster money this week. The battle had raised the possibility of a government shutdown, but the situation was defused on Monday after FEMA revealed that the emergency money wasn't needed after all.
The administration says the influx of disaster money will allow FEMA to resume funding longer term rebuilding projects that had been put on hold to conserve aid to provide immediate help to victims of Hurricane Irene and other recent disasters.
The stopgap bill funds the government through Tuesday, allowing lawmakers to return next week and hold a recorded vote on another measure that would keep the government open through mid-November. The recorded tally would allow tea party opponents of the spending measure to register their opposition.