Friday September 23, 2011 | 08:27 AM

(Updated below with Senate vote)

For the second time in two days, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd, was one of the six House Democrats who voted in favor of the House GOP $3.65 billion disaster relief bill.

This time, just 24 House Republicans voted no, compared to 48 on Wednesday, and the House GOP bill passed 219-203 in a post-midnight vote Friday.

Michaud said on Wednesday that he voted for the House GOP bill because Maine communities need at least $2.4 million for recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Irene, and he is urging congressional leaders to reach a compromise on a final bipartisan disaster relief funding bill before federal relief resources run out.

The disaster relief measure, needed because federal emergency agencies are within a few days of running out of aid and recovery funds, is part of an underlying bill keeping the government running through Nov. 18 because lawmakers have not finished approval of 2012 spending measures. The 2012 federal fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

With the GOP-run House and Democratic-run Senate once again deadlocked over spending issues, the threat of a government shutdown looms, though GOP House Speaker John Boehner has offered assurances that a compromise can be found.

Senate Democrats have their own, $6.9 billion disaster relief measure, one that has been backed by enough Republicans – including GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine - to pass a 60-vote procedural hurdle and be approved.

Democrats are angry that the House GOP disaster relief bill offsets the disaster spending with $1.5 billion in cuts to a federal loan program that encourages auto makers to produce fuel-efficient vehicles, a program Democrats say creates jobs and boosts the economy. House GOP leaders made just one change to the bill that went down to defeat Wednesday: they also cut $100 million from the Department of Energy’s assistance program for renewable energy firms such as the now bankrupt Solyndra solar firm in northern California that got a $535 million federal loan guarantee.

Michaud wrote a letter to House GOP leaders on Wednesday saying that since the initial House bill went down to defeat, House GOP leaders should bring up for a vote on the House floor the more generous Senate relief measure. That did not happen, and Michaud again voted yes on Friday.

Michaud told the House GOP leaders that he voted for the House GOP disaster relief bill Wednesday "because it contained the disaster funding that my constituents in Maine need to recover from the storm. Because the House is not in session next week, it is imperative that Congress pass a bill to prevent FEMA from running out of funding before we adjourn.  That is why I urge you to bring the Senate-passed disaster relief bill to the House floor for a vote immediately.  Maine communities cannot afford for Congress to recess before a disaster relief bill has been passed," Michaud said.

(Updated as of 2:45 p.m.: The Senate voted this afternoon 59-36 to reject the House disaster relief bill. Earlier this month, GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe were among a group of Republicans to help give Democrats the 60 votes needed to pass a procedural hurdle on a $6.9 billion Senate disaster relief bill.

Today, Collins and Snowe voted with 33 other Republicans and one Deomcrat against a motion to reject the House bill. The Senate's rejection sets up a vote Monday afternoon when Senate Majority Leader will offer an amendment version of the House bill for a vote on the Senate floor, one that contains the $3.65 billion sought by the House but does not contain the offsetting cuts to the fuel-efficiency loan program. Seven Senate Republicans did join with Senate Democrats today in rejecting the House bill.

Kevin Kelley, Collins’ spokesman, said that “As she has all along, Senator Collins believes that it is important that Congress pass a bill that avoids a government shutdown and provides FEMA with the funding it needs to provide much-needed assistance to disaster victims.”

Collins would have liked the Senate to stay in session over the weekend to work on the issue, but “is hopeful the Congress will reach a compromise next week that funds FEMA's disaster relief programs and keeps the government operating,” Kelley said.

Snowe said in a statement that, "If we have the opportunity to defray some of the costs of this funding then we should take it, but this dispute should not keep disaster victims from receiving assistance. Indisputably, FEMA and affected communities should immediately receive the resources required to respond to recent hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes.”

Snowe also bemoaned the need that Congress is in the position of having to pass a temporary spending bill to keep the government operating.

“No one disputes our imperative to get aid to those who are in need, but we must then return to regular order without delay to consider our (fiscal year) 2012 appropriations bills and put our nation's balance sheet back on a sustainable and fiscally responsible path."




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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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