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Congress makes no progress on keeping government afloat

WASHINGTON — The federal disaster fund could run dry as early as Tuesday, but lawmakers showed no sign of compromise over the weekend.

Democratic and Republican leaders were not scheduled to talk Sunday about a measure to replenish the fund, which is used to aid victims and reimburse states hit by floods and other natural disasters, and to keep the government running past Friday, the end of the fiscal year.

The disaster aid is part of a broader bill to temporarily fund the government once the new fiscal year begins Saturday.

The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a Democratic-sponsored measure to provide $3.65 billion to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which administers the disaster fund. But the bill is expected to fail because it does not include spending cuts demanded by Republicans.

Lawmakers expressed hope Sunday that they could reach a bipartisan agreement rather than face a repeat of the rancorous summer battle over raising the nation's debt ceiling. But negotiations are likely to continue until the eleventh hour.

Ratcheting up pressure for a deal, governors from New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, states hard hit by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, called on Congress to swiftly provide disaster aid.

The fight over what traditionally has been a routine matter — keeping the government running and aiding disaster victims — is raising doubts about the ability of a divided Congress to resolve far thornier issues, including reducing the national debt and strengthening the economy.

"This latest crisis makes it painfully obvious that the next battles — a jobs bill and further deficit reduction — will be even more challenging," said Greg Valliere, a political analyst with the Potomac Research Group, an independent firm that provides policy analysis to institutional investors.

At least in public, neither side showed signs of budging.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., called the latest standoff "embarrassing," and tangled with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on CNN's State of the Union over who was responsible. Warner blamed "the tea party crowd" in the Republican-controlled House, while Alexander accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.. of manufacturing a crisis.

Congress makes no progress on keeping government afloat 09/25/11 [Last modified: Sunday, September 25, 2011 11:33pm]

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