[StBernard] South Carolina senator holding up bill to aid storm victims
westley at da-parish.com
Tue Apr 3 19:32:53 EDT 2007
WASHINGTON A South Carolina Republican senator acknowledged Monday holding
up legislation intended to let Gulf Coast hurricane victims keep their
rebuilding grants instead of using the money immediately to pay off federal
Sen. Jim DeMint, a conservative former House member, lodged an anonymous
objection last Thursday and effectively stalled the bipartisan bill that
supporters hoped would have been waived through unanimously as the Senate
prepared to leave for a two-week recess. Under Senate rules, DeMints
objection was enough to shelve the legislation at least until lawmakers
return April 10, but most likely until later. His office confirmed Monday
that he placed the hold on the bill.
This bill has a number of problems, including violating the budget the
Senate just passed, according to DeMints spokesman Wesley Denton. Senator
DeMint objects to passing the bill without a debate, amendments or a roll
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., filed the legislation in reaction to complaints
from some of the 135,000 Hurricane Katrina victims in Louisiana and
Mississippi who applied for home-building grants. Some of those who also
received low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration are being
told that they must use their grants to pay off the loans instead of using
both for rebuilding.
As of February, 22 percent of those in Louisiana who had received both forms
of financial assistance were being told to pay back all or some part of
their loans. Through March 30, 474 had used their grant money to pay off the
loan. The requirement has left some people short of the money they thought
they would have to rebuild their flooded and wind-damaged homes, Landrieu
Landrieus bill, which has the backing of Sens. David Vitter, R-La., and
Trent Lott, R-Miss., wouldnt forgive the SBA loans, but rather void the
requirement that they be paid off immediately instead of over the 30-year
When Congress sent rebuilding funding down to the Gulf Coast , the intent
was for it to help people rebuild. It was not simply to move money from one
government agency to another, leaving still-damaged homes lost in the wash,
Landrieu said. We are not seeking charity. We are asking only that
homeowners be permitted to repay their SBA loans on fair terms. Indeed, when
you give people a chance to rebuild, it means less money for the Washington
bureaucracy to sit on. And thats exactly the point.
Vitter added: This bill will allow borrowers to use the original life of
the loan to make payments and keep their grant money for recovery and
rebuilding as it is intended.
The bill is opposed by the Bush Administration, which sees it as a violation
of Stafford Act prohibition on duplication of benefits.
Under the SBAs interpretation, if a homeowner receives a loan as well as a
rebuilding grant, such as money from Louisianas Road Home program, the
portion that exceeds the cost of the rebuilding should be returned
immediately to the taxpayers.
As written, (the bill) would require the SBA to provide subsidized
low-interest loans to pay for exactly the same property repairs that are
being paid for by insurance payments or Road Home grants, SBA spokeswoman
Carol Chastang said. Under Congress Pay-Go rules, $215 million in
programs serving other constituents would have to be cut to cover the added
cost of allowing the proposed duplication of benefits.
DeMint raised similar concerns. The Congressional Budget Office estimates
that the bill would cost $215 million over the next two years.
Landrieu argues that because the loans would still have to be paid back,
ultimately the bill would cost taxpayers nothing. Still, under rules adopted
by the Senate, the short-term financial impact would pose an obstacle
requiring supporters to find $215 million in cuts to off-set the bill or
muster 60 votes to override it the objection.
Despite DeMints hold, the senators spokesman said that Democratic Leader
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., could bring the Landrieu bill up again when the
Senate returns and have a full debate and a vote.
If this is a priority for Senator Reid, he should schedule it for floor
consideration, the spokesman said.
That strategy is easier said than done. By filibustering and raising budget
points of order, opponents of the legislation could tie up the legislation
for two weeks or more in the Senate.
A similar provision is pending in the House sponsored by Rep. Charlie
Melancon, D-Napoleonville. It passed the Small Business Committee and is
awaiting floor consideration.
Bill Walsh can be reached at bill.walsh at newhouse.com or (202)¤383-7817.
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