WASHINGTON — Despite the flare up of a partisan spat, Congress moved closer to authorizing as much as $450 million to repair damage from the devastating Colorado floods.
Monday, the U.S. House and Senate approved legislation to authorize the lifting of a cap on transportation funds for flood-relief efforts. The two chambers passed separate bills without opposition.
“I’m confident the bill will get done,” Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) said in an interview Tuesday of his legislation, which drew the support of the other six members of Colorado’s delegation to the House of Representatives.
“Coloradans struggling to get back on their feet after this disaster expect a helping hand from Washington, not a shove.” Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said in a statement Friday of his companion bill in the upper chamber, which Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) supported.
The federal cap for disaster relief is $100 million, but the ceiling has been breached numerous times in recent years. In January, Congress approved a $62 billion relief package to help recovery efforts from super storm Hurricane Sandy last October.
Congress’ approval of the bills comes three weeks after walls of rain walloped the Centennial State. According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management, the rains devastated 20,909 households, causing its members to evacuate their homes, and tearing through nine counties in the Front Range and suburban Denver to the point they have been declared major disaster areas. Eight people have been pronounced dead as a result of the floods.
Last week, Vice President Joseph Biden toured the state to inspect the damage. “I promise you, I promise you, there will be help,” he said at a Federal Emergency Management Agency resource center in Greeley. “There will not be a shut down even if Congress does not fund the federal government.”
Yet the bills’ maneuvering through Congress has prompted sharp elbows from some Colorado lawmakers.
Tuesday morning, Gardner spoke on the House floor to deliver a thinly veiled jab at Biden and President Obama, urging them to “stay true to their promise” to provide full federal relief to Colorado even in the event of a government shutdown. In a subsequent interview, Gardner referred to statements that both Udall and Bennet made on the Senate floor Friday in which they questioned whether the Utah National Guard would receive federal funds to assist flood-relief efforts, a discrepancy from the administration’s promise.
The White House did not return comment immediately.But Gov. John Hickenlooper’s promise Tuesday that the state would pick up the $40,000 to $80,000 tab daily temporarily for the National Guard may soothe tensions. The Democrat added FEMA would reimburse the state for three quarters of the cost. A FEMA spokesperson confirmed the agency would honor the state’s request.
The Obama administration, which declared Colorado a disaster area, has indicated its support for flood-relief efforts.