Clinton vetoes flood relief bill
President Clinton’s veto Monday of the long-awaited Disaster Relief Bill brought mixed reactions from Nevada representatives in Washington, D.C.
“This is no time to play politics,” said Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nevada. “Nevada citizens are hurting and need this aid immediately. Why President Clinton has refused to release this disaster recovery money is beyond me.”
Gibbons voted to support the bill, HR 1469, which passed the House 220-201 Thursday.
The bill in question is an $8.6 billion emergency money bill providing disaster relief funds for 35 flood-stricken states. It provided $5.4 billion for disaster assistance, $1.9 billion for military operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf, $262 million for feeding poor women and their children, for education and a new transportation system at Yosemite National Park in California. The rest of the money was earmarked for highway construction, veteran’s benefits and other purposes.
The bill also included a Republican rider that would guarantee federal funding at the 1997 level if both parties failed to agree on funding by the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year. This would also prevent another government shutdown in the event of a budget impasse.
The other Republican rider added to the the disaster relief bill was to block the use of “sampling” in the 2000 census, which Republicans fear could lead to Democratic gains in house elections.
According to Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nevada, this rider was aimed at insuring that Republicans don’t lose congressional representatives in the inner-city. These areas are traditionally under-counted due to the difficulty in getting an accurate census and as a result, sampling and extrapolating techniques have been recommended.
“Republicans don’t want random sampling,” said Mike Dayton, press secretary and chief of staff for Gibbons in a telephone interview from his Washington, D.C. office. “They want an accurate census to be taken.”
Bryan urged all members of Congress to debate these “extraneous provisions,” as Clinton referred to them, at a future date.
“The people of Nevada are entitled to have some federal relief without the partisan maneuvering that the Republican Congress is doing,” Bryan said in a telephone interview Monday from Washington, D.C.
“Each of these riders – the census sampling and the debate on budget changes and whether or not to ever close down the government again – should be examined on their own merit separately,” he said. “But to hold hostage the victims of the ravages of nature is unconscionable.”
Bryan said the first rider to HR 1469 has more complicated implications than merely keeping government offices open.
“What this means is that if nothing is done on the budget from here on, then the money is locked into last year’s level and the President can’t ask for more money for any programs if he sees it necessary.”
Senate Democrats vowed to keep the Senate in session all night Tuesday unless Congress could come up with an acceptable disaster relief bill.
Dayton said Gibbons said is also interested in doing anything possible to get disaster relief to the people of Nevada.
“Republicans are willing to sit down with the President and submit another bill without riders – whatever it takes to get the money through,” Dayton said.
“People ought to be mad at the games that some in Congress are playing,” Bryan said.
As far as when future discussion toward compromise on the bill will take place, President Clinton urged Congress Monday to remove the extraneous provisions and send him a straightforward disaster relief bill he can sign.
The bill went back to Capitol Hill Monday afternoon, but a two-thirds majority in both the Senate and the House could overturn the veto. Given the slim margin the bill initially passed by, the override seemed improbable.
Dick Mirgon, Douglas County emergency management director, said repairs on the river are basically on hold until the money is approved by Congress.
“Next to gaming, agriculture is the lifeblood of this Valley,” he said, “and holding up river repairs affects ranchers, farmers and the whole irrigation system.”
One of the problems with this week’s delay, he said, is that county officials have planned to go to the Nevada Legislature to see if the state will help with the 25 percent obligation that Douglas County will have to pay in order to secure Federal Emergency Management Agencies (FEMA) monies.
“The problem is, we can’t go to them if the money isn’t through Congress, so we basically have to wait for the federal money to be approved before we can go and ask for any matching funds from the state,” he explained.
If the Legislature ends before the federal money is appropriated, county officials will have to go to Interim Finance to plead their case.
“We’d rather have the whole Legislature look at our package,” Mirgon said. “Going to interim finance is just a more convoluted process.”
Mirgon expressed frustration about the long wait for disaster relief for Douglas County.
“Shame on the Republicans for adding nonsense riders to the disaster relief bill,” he said, “and shame on the Democrats for not settling for the bill and dealing with the problems later.
“Our congressman and senators have basically been very helpful since the flood, but it seems like this is a situation with boys in a schoolyard fighting.”
“It’s time to work out their differences,” Mirgon said.