Last night, the Senate found the votes to move forward on a motion to proceed for a $6.8 billion disaster relief funding bill. The roll call is here. Republicans Roy Blunt, Scott Brown, Susan Collins, Dean Heller, John Hoeven, Olympia Snowe, Pat Toomey and David Vitter joined all 53 Democrats in supporting. All of these Republicans either come from states which experienced serious natural disasters in recent months, or will have tough re-election campaigns in 2012.

Harry Reid, who used a noncontroversial bill reauthorizing sanctions on Burma as the shell for the legislation, gave an amazing stat on the Senate floor after the vote:

Tuesday’s Senate vote came after Reid hammered Republicans for holding up funding that would replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s nearly exhausted disaster relief fund. This year alone, President Barack Obama has declared emergencies in all but two states in the country, Michigan and West Virginia, Reid said.

“To say now it’s not the time to turn to it is really not fair,” Reid said. “We need the money now.”

Climate change? What’s climate change?

Republicans who oppose the disaster relief funding bill, which has no offsets, will try to string this along, but Reid is probably going to be able to secure final passage by the end of the week. From there, the ball will move into the House’s court.

Congress is heading toward a stalemate as FEMA’s accounts are dwindling. Aid for victims of disasters is expected to run out sometime around the end of the fiscal year, which is Sept. 30.

FEMA has already postponed rebuilding efforts in areas, including Joplin, Mo., that suffered damages from earlier disasters, and the agency is using its remaining funds to provide immediate food, shelter and debris removal for victims of more recent disasters, namely Hurricane Irene. The fund had less than $400 million as of Tuesday […]

The president on Friday requested $5.1 billion for the rest of this year and next. House GOP leaders are preparing a new disaster aid budget as part of the stopgap spending measure for the upcoming 2012 fiscal year to be presented this week. Congress is readying the stopgap legislation because it has not yet passed all its funding bills but is seeking to avert a shutdown when the new year begins Oct. 1. The House could vote on that legislation next week.

The House actually passed a small amount of funding for FEMA back in June, around $2.6 billion, with offsets. So this could go to a conference committee. But the more likely scenario is that this gets wrapped up in the continuing resolution to fund the government which must pass by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown. The House will try to attach their legislation from back in June to that package, or something similar. The Senate will want their bill represented. So even if John Boehner relents on the gamesmanship with the funding total for appropriations, and a clean two-month extension at agreed-to levels gets passed, we STILL could have a government shutdown threat over the level of disaster relief and whether or not that will need offsets.

It’s not going to be that easy for House Republicans to work their will, however. Peter Welch, Vermont’s only Congressman (the state that was hardest hit by Hurricane Irene), has assembled a bipartisan coalition of House members which are demanding aid for Hurricane Irene. Many of the Republicans in the coalition are freshmen who face tough re-elections. Add to that the gang of 8 Republicans who just voted for disaster relief without offsets, and you have bipartisan momentum on the side of the Senate version of the bill. Republican leaders will have to both threaten a government shutdown and take money away from victims of hurricanes and floods in order to win this one. That’s not exactly a popular stance.

David Dayen

David Dayen