New Disaster Bill

Seemingly materializing out of nowhere, a $5.1 billion disaster aid package will be voted on by the U.S. House this week, as Democratic leaders have also decided to attach a $600 million Summer Youth Jobs program to that bill as well.

I figured maybe I had been so deep into coverage of health care reform that I just missed this bill going through the pipeline, because it's the kind of thing I like to keep an eye out for.

But that wasn't the case, as the bill was introduced after the Sunday night votes on health care reform, catching even the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee unaware of its existence.

"To say that I was surprised by this development would be an understatement, to put it mildly," said Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA).

Lewis told the House Rules Committee on Tuesday that "this legislation will go directly to the House floor without any input from House Republicans and zero opportunity for any Member to amend it."

If you want to look through the five page bill, you can find it at http://bit.ly/coTcGQ .

Here is the official description from the office of Appropriations Committee Chair Rep David Obey (D-WI).

"With record snowfalls and major floods, our nation has faced several natural disasters this year; and many areas of the country are continuing to recover from previous disasters. This $5.1 billion disaster aid package will help these communities rebuild their homes, infrastructure and local economies and to take steps to protect them from future disasters.

While the $5.1 billion in disaster aid is declared an emergency, and would simply be added to the budget deficit instead of being paid for, there are offsets to pay for summer jobs and small business loan initiatives, totaling $660 million.

Where does that money come from?  Well, from what's known as "unobligated" funds, as in money that hasn't been spent.

* $111.5 million would be taken from unspent funds in the "Digital-to-Analog Converter Box Program"
* $44 million in unspent money in the "Consumer Assistant to Recycle and Save Program" at the Department of Transportation
* $361.8 million in unspent money would be taken from a section of the Economic Stimulus law that put money in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, and
* $102.7 million would come from unspent money in Rural Development Programs at the Department of Agriculture

This reporter would observe that Republicans have argued for months about using unspent stimulus money as budget offsets, but have been rebuffed by Democrats in those attempts.

This reporter would observe further, that if Republicans in Congress came up with the idea of taking $361.8 million in unspent WIC money for some other purpose, that would more than likely draw a sharply negative reaction from many Democrats.  

One final item in this bill is something that is routine, but it always seems jarring, and that is a payment to the widow of a deceased Member of Congress.

In this case, Joyce Murtha, the widow of the late Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) would be paid $174,000 as a death benefit, which is basically a year's salary for a lawmaker.

The things you learn by actually reading legislation, especially a bill that seemed to come from nowhere.

Seemingly materializing out of nowhere, a $5.1 billion disaster aid package will be voted on by the U.S. House this week, as Democratic leaders have also decided to attach a $600 million Summer Youth Jobs program to that bill as well. I figured maybe I had been so deep into ...

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