Spending Bill Fails, But Welch Says Aid Will Come

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(Host) Congressman Peter Welch says he is "absolutely confident" that Vermont will receive several hundred million dollars in federal disaster relief aid in the coming weeks. That’s even though the U.S. House has voted against a new FEMA spending bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) House Republican leaders included two very different issues in the legislation that was defeated.  The first provision allocates more federal disaster relief money to states hit hard by tropical storm Irene, and part of that appropriation is paid for by making cuts in a federal program to make cars more energy efficient.

The second part of the bill extends funding for the federal government through the end of this year.

The bill had detractors on all sides: some Republicans opposed the extra FEMA money, other GOP members wanted to slash spending on the federal budget, while many Democrats objected to cutting any programs to pay for damages caused by a natural disaster.

Despite this initial defeat, Welch is certain that Vermont will soon get its disaster money.

(Welch) "We do know what’s going to happen. We’re going to get the disaster relief back to Vermont. I am absolutely confident of that. I spoke personally with Speaker Boehner yesterday and he assures me that we’ll get money there and it’ll be a down payment because as the damage assessment continues that number is going to have to go up."

(Kinzel) Welch is the chairman and founder of a so called "House Irene Caucus" that’s made up of 55 Republicans and Democrats from states that were in the storm’s path.

In the end, he was one of just 6 Democrats in the entire House to vote for the bill.

He says he swallowed hard and accepted the budget cuts to pay for disaster relief.

(Welch) "I work for Vermont and I’ve been to Wilmington, I’ve been to Royalton I’ve been to communities around the state to see how our local fire departments, our select boards, neighbors are helping neighbors. They’re working hard and my first obligation is to help get that FEMA assistance money back to them so they can continue rebuilding their communities and getting back on track."

(Kinzel) The Irene Caucus was very divided over the bill. Does this indicate that the Caucus doesn’t have the political influence that Welch hoped it would have?

(Welch) "No is the answer to that. I’ll tell you why. The bundling of too many things in a bill makes enormous confusion for everybody as to what you’re voting on. So the vote…was not just on FEMA aid it was really on the overall expenditures of government and whether we’re going to keep the lights on until the end of the year."

(Kinzel) Welch expects that a new FEMA Disaster relief bill will come before the House in the near future and he thinks it will pass as long as it’s not attached to another controversial piece of legislation.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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