Udall, Bennet bill raising cap on flood relief included in debt limit deal

Failure by Congress to avert the tax increases and spending cuts will cause continued uncertainty and headaches over paychecks, tax returns, investments and more. (Photo: CNN)

DENVER — An eleventh hour agreement to re-open the government and extend the debt limit is expected to move quickly through Congress on Wednesday, with the Tea Party wing of the House GOP having finally undercut whatever leverage Speaker John Boehner had left on Tuesday and the nation set to hit its borrowing limit Thursday morning.

The agreement, which has been drafted by Senate leaders, could go first to the House, where Boehner is expected to allow a floor vote, and then back to the Senate, expediting its passage and possibly enabling it to get to President Obama before the end of the day.

The main pillars of the deal will fund the government at tight levels through Jan. 15, reflecting across-the-board spending cuts, or “sequestration” cuts, that went into effect in March; additionally, the debt ceiling would be raised into February, and negotiators would be required to complete work on a detailed budget plan for the next decade by Dec. 13.

FOX31 Denver has learned that the deal also includes legislation sponsored by Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Democrats, to lift a federal cap on disaster relief that will allow more money to flow from Washington, DC to Colorado as the state recovers from last month’s devastating floods.

Udall met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Tuesday, as Reid was hashing out the final agreement with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and asked that the flood relief measure be included in that deal, Udall’s deputy chief of staff, Joe Britton told FOX31 Denver Wednesday morning.

The legislation will raise a federal cap on relief dollars from $100 million to $450 million — that figure is based on the Colorado Dept. of Transportation’s estimated cost of rebuilding the infrastructure destroyed during the floods.

House Republicans had been pushing a separate bill by Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, that would have removed the $100 million limit without putting a new cap in place.

“Colorado has shown our nation that we are better when we stand united to confront natural disasters and rebuild better, stronger and smarter than before. I am proud the Republican and Democratic leaders of the U.S. Senate agreed to include this language in the bipartisan deal making its way through the chamber now,” Udall told FOX31 Denver.

“Colorado cannot wait any longer for this arbitrary cap to be lifted, for Congress to avert a government default or for this partisan government shutdown to end. This is a welcome development for the Centennial State, and I am proud to have been able to shepherd this critical relief through Congress.”

The inclusion of the legislation is a symbolic cherry on top for the Udall, who faces reelection in 2014, and Bennet, who’s overseeing the Democrats’ campaign efforts to retain a majority in the Senate.

“While Washington has been shut down, Coloradans have been working hard to rebuild and recover from last month’s devastating floods that left a wake of destruction in our state,” Bennet said. “Lifting this cap removes an important political roadblock, and will make available crucial resources we need to get people moving around the state again. Coloradans have been resilient and patient, but it’s time to let us get to work so we can repair and reopen key access routes to communities affected by the floods.”

Morevover, it’s another sign of the leverage Democrats had at the end of this 16-day shutdown, engineered by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a small group of conservatives who attempted to force Democrats to cripple the Affordable Care Act by any means necessary, including their refusal to fund the government.

Nationally, Republicans watched their party’s approval ratings plummet as the shutdown dragged on, with nearly three of four Americans now disapproving of the House GOP.

On Wednesday, the conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board slammed those Tea Party Republicans and Speaker Boehner, who reluctantly but spiritedly led their two week charge: “They picked a goal they couldn’t achieve in trying to defund ObamaCare from one House of Congress, and then they picked a means they couldn’t sustain politically by pursuing a long government shutdown and threatening to blow through the debt limit.”

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., tweeted the article himself, underlining the frustration many more pragmatic Republican members of Congress feel toward their Tea Party colleagues.

Ultimately, the only concession to the quixotic quest to gut President Obama’s health care law is a mild tightening of income verification rules for people obtaining subsidized health insurance on the new insurance exchanges.


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