This was a vote on a motion to end debate (known as a “cloture motion”) on legislation that would have funded federal government programs and agencies through November 18, 2011, and would also have provided $3.65 billion for disaster relief for states affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. The federal government was scheduled to run out of money on October 1, 2011. (This vote took place on September 26, 2011.) Thus, this bill—in addition to providing disaster relief--would have kept the federal government running through November 18.
[In the aftermath of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene, House Republicans demanded that the cost of any federal assistance for victims of that storm be offset by spending cuts to other programs. Thus, the House—which was controlled by Republicans—passed legislation to provide disaster relief but offset the cost of that assistance by cutting funding for a loan guarantee program for the manufacturing of fuel-efficient cars. The Senate—which was controlled by Democrats—rejected that House-passed bill. Thus, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought up this bill, which would provide for disaster relief funding without cutting other federal programs.]
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) argued: “We have to cut funding. But we don't have to do it like this. We don't have to do it on the backs of the people of Schoharie County, whose homes have been blown away, or the people of Binghamton, who are in shelters because there is no rental housing for them. We don't have to do it on their backs. That is not fair. If our Republican colleagues want to have a fight over a program they used to support but now say the circumstances have changed, fine, we should have that. That is what we are here for. But don't hold disaster aid hostage. I want to say this, lest people think the Democratic stand is some way-out-there, leftwing stand. Guess who supports us. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Because they know what we are doing is right. Those are groups that are almost always supporting Republican initiatives. So when they say we are right, doesn't that send a shot across the bow to my colleagues to back off this ideological, narrow, my-way-or-the-highway position? Most importantly, the House Republican approach would require that we kill 40,000 jobs in order to help our fellow Americans put their lives and businesses back together after this year's record disasters. That is not right, it is unprecedented, and I would say it is not the way we have done things in this country in the past.”
No Republicans spoke during the debate leading up to this vote. Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), however, argued during previous debate on disaster relief funding: “Because of some of the horrible weather we have had over the past several weeks, we have all agreed to add emergency funds…and Republicans have identified a couple of cuts to make sure we don't make the deficit any bigger than it is already…They [Democrats] would rather just add these funds to the deficit. Why? Because, they say, that is the way we have always done things around here. Well, I think there is a lesson we can draw from the debates we have been having here over the last 6 months; that is, the American people won't accept that excuse any longer. The whole `that is the way we have always done it' argument is the reason we have a $14 trillion debt right now.”
The vote on the motion to end debate on this bill was 54-35. All 51 Democrats present and 3 Republicans voted “yea.” 35 Republicans voted “nay.” While a majority of senators voted “yea,” a 60-vote majority is required for passage of a motion to end debate. Thus, this motion failed. As a result, the Senate effectively rejected legislation that would have funded federal government programs and agencies through November 18, 2011, and would also have provided $3.65 billion in disaster relief for states affected by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene. The Senate later passed different legislation to fund the federal government through November 18, but provided less disaster relief funding ($2.65 billion, as opposed to $3.65 billion). The House then passed that bill, and President Obama signed it into law.