The U.S. Senate failed Monday night to approve legislation that would both keep the federal government afloat and provide emergency disaster aid for Hurricane Ida in a partisan fight over the proposed Democratic budget.
The outcome leaves Louisiana without a slice of the $28.6 billion disaster relief, the federal government facing a shut down Friday and the very real possibility of government won’t be able to pay its debts for the first time in history within the next few weeks.
“It was one of the most reckless, most irresponsible votes,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said of Senate Republicans at the conclusion of the vote. “The Republican Party is the party of default.”
Democrats opposed the Republican version and Republicans opposed the Democratic version on a technical vote to see if 60 senators would support the legislation. The measure failed on a party line vote that came up 12 shy of the necessary amount.
Democratic senators wanted a bill that would fund the federal government, cover disaster funding, and to increase the debt ceiling, which would allow for borrowing to cover the expenditures. The Republicans pressed a similar measure – sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala. – but didn’t include a debt ceiling provision.
Republicans argue that raising the debt ceiling would allow Democrats to pursue a $3.5 trillion budget that would increase funding for social net programs.
Since 1960, raising or suspending the debt limit has occurred about 80 times with little debate and with bipartisan consent. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Sunday that absent lifting the debt limit, the United States would be unable to pay its bills sometime in October.
Most Republican senators used the debate to complain about Biden administration actions on the border and during the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
But Louisiana Republican senators, Bill Cassidy, of Baton Rouge, and John N. Kennedy, of Madisonville, closed out the debate focusing on the damages caused by five named storms that came ashore in Louisiana, along with record cold in February and rain event in May, causing about $115 billion in damage that could be relieved easily if their colleagues voted for the Republican version of the bill.
“It is moronic to be having this fight,” Kennedy said.
“We’re three days away from a government shutdown for one reason and one reason only: Democrat-controlled Washington,” Cassidy said. “A clean vote on disaster relief and a continuing resolution to fund the government – the legislation filed by Senators McConnell and Shelby – would pass today with overwhelming bipartisan support. We all know that. But my Democratic colleagues are choosing to hold this critical funding set to benefit our states hostage in order to fund their planned tax and spending extravaganza.”
Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, of New Hampshire, countered that while he supports disaster funding, without raising the fiscal limits, the U.S. Treasury would have no money to pay for the relief. The Trump Administration had spent about $8 trillion, much of it in tax breaks for the wealthy, without identifying how the expenses would be paid.
Leahy pointed out that without congressional action, the federal government would soon be unable to pay military personnel, food stamps, and a whole range of programs.
“Let’s stop this political brinkmanship,” Leahy said.
Few were surprised at the partisan standoff that has been brewing for weeks.
Nothing much has changed in Louisiana. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards said last week after visiting the White House that he was optimistic that partisans on Capitol Hill would be able to work out the issues.
Lake Charles Mayor Nic Hunter and Calcasieu Parish Administrator Bryan Beam were not as sanguine.
Both voiced frustration over the possibility of a further delay, though they were not surprised by the partisan fight in Washington. “What we are witnessing right now is unfortunately all too familiar regarding the Washington political game,” Hunter, a Republican said last week.