U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., took to the Senate floor for most of last week leading the charge for more disaster aid funding and scoring a big win — for now.
The Senate approved 62-37 replenishing the Disaster Relief Fund by $6.9 billion.
The money that pays for damage and repairs from disasters had dwindled to $337 million in the wake of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene, which recently wrecked much of the East Coast.
Landrieu, who chairs the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the money, has pleaded with the Obama administration to add to the fund, which is handled by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., did his part in the battle as one of only 10 Republicans who supported the measure.
Landrieu’s fight, however, is far from over. The House wants to spend $1 billion to immediately replenish the fund while adding another $2.6 billion for the coming year.
The House money would only fund disaster relief in the short term, Landrieu said.
“I will not negotiate on funding disaster victims in these communities six weeks at a time,” Landrieu said. “No mayor, no governor can build their communities with six weeks of funding at a time.”
Landrieu also said the $3.6 billion being offered by the House is not enough.
Some Senate Republicans tried to block the disaster relief, arguing that the government must find the money through cuts in other parts of the budget. House members also have suggested first coming up with offsets.
Landrieu, who is the former chairwoman of the Senate Disaster Recovery Subcommittee, promised to continue to fight for the $6.9 billion for disaster victims.
“Now is not the time to fight over how you pay for disasters; now is the time to join hands and give them help and support,” Landrieu said.
Vitter wants accounting
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., introduced legislation this past week that would require federal agencies to account for all taxpayer funds given to renewable energy projects.
The Federal Accountability of Renewable Energy Act was spurred by recent news reports that have suggested the White House two years ago might have pressured the Office of Management and Budget to approve a loan for a now-bankrupt California solar energy company.
The move was made before OMB had time to conduct a thorough review of the company’s financial viability, according to the reports.
The Vitter legislation would require agencies to report whether they have provided any financial support to private-sector renewable energy projects.
Agencies also would have to list companies that have met the stated purpose of the financial support as well as those that have not.
Agencies would be required to report the number of jobs created as a result of financial support.
A preliminary inspector general investigation also should be conducted into all companies that have substantially failed to meet the objectives of the financial support and whether fraud existed, Vitter said.
“We need an all-of-the-above energy policy that creates good jobs and keeps energy prices low for Americans, but these projects have to be viable — they have to make sense,” Vitter said.
Landrieu on small business
Landrieu heard the good, the bad and the ugly this past week about the federal disaster procurement process as chairwoman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee.
After each disaster, federal agencies carry out emergency response activities through contracts with private businesses, including debris removal, reconstruction and getting supplies. Landrieu was pleased to hear the Small Business Administration was making strides in making some improvements after Hurricane Katrina and Rita.
Small businesses along the Gulf Coast have received $2.7 billion by helping with the recovery.
But the committee also heard testimony from a Berwick small business owner who said his company is still owed $1.5 million from a prime contractor.
“I’m disappointed to hear about some contractors not receiving pay for an honest day’s work,” Landrieu said.
“Small businesses can’t afford late payments, and most certainly can’t afford to never receive a payment. It is a tragedy.”
Compiled by Gerard Shields, chief of The Advocate’s Washington
bureau. His email addressis GerardShields@aol.com.