After months of delays, Congress will need still more time to clear a bipartisan, multi-billion-dollar disaster aid package, after conservatives blocked a move to quickly speed the measure through the House Friday because it lacked border security funds.
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Senate lawmakers on Thursday had overwhelmingly voted in support of a $19.1 billion disaster aid package after delays that stalled critical federal funding in aid for farmers and parts of the country still recovering from a brutal onslaught of natural disasters over the last two years. The final tally was 85-8.
Then, on Friday, Democratic and Republican leaders in the House had reached an agreement to send the proposal to the White House under unanimous consent, after lawmakers left Washington for the Memorial Day Recess.
But it failed to pass because one member, Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, a former aide to Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and a member of the House Freedom Caucus, objected to the move, criticizing the effort to pass the massive spending bill without a recorded vote, and because it lacked any border security funding and corresponding cuts to offset the new spending.
The House won’t be able to reconsidering the bill until next Tuesday, after the holiday weekend.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi attacked the Republican move.
“House Republicans’ last-minute sabotage of an overwhelmingly bipartisan disaster relief bill is an act of staggering political cynicism. Countless American families hit by devastating natural disasters across the country will now be denied the relief they urgently need,” she said in a statement.
“Our Democratic House passed two strong disaster relief bills this year to provide help and healing to families hit by floods, hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. Now, after the President and Senate Republicans disrupted and delayed disaster relief for more than four months, House Republicans have decided to wage their own sabotage. Every day of Republican obstruction, more disasters have struck, more damage has piled up and more families have been left in the cold,” she said.
On Thursday, senators scrambled to cut a deal over the long-stalled bill before adjourning for the week. The agreement has been held up for months over various disputes, including border security funding and relief for the island of Puerto Rico.
Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Sen. David Perdue, R-Georgia, secured the president’s commitment to support the multi-billion dollar disaster package even though it doesn’t include additional funding for the U.S.-Mexico border, which the White House had requested.
“We took it all out. We’re going to try to push that separately when we come back,” Shelby told reporters. “It’s a good deal. This disaster issue has played on for months and months. Let’s hope we can move it out of the Senate today.”
The Senate voted late Thursday just before lawmakers left town for a weeklong Memorial Day recess.
Congress has not passed a broad disaster relief package since February 2018.
“This legislation has already taken far too long to deliver,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said at a news conference Tuesday. “It is past time to put partisan politics aside, move past any tangential questions and secure a final agreement that can become law.”
The Senate’s top Democrat – Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York – blamed the delay on Republicans.
“It’s good that Republicans finally came to their senses and realized that Puerto Rico and other disaster impacted areas deserve to be treated fairly and that extraneous provisions shouldn’t be added to the disaster relief package,” he said in a statement.
“It is a shame that Republicans allowed President Trump to—not once, but twice—add extraneous things to this bill, as it could have been approved much sooner. We hope this does not happen again,” he added.
The compromise measure would provide disaster relief for hard-hit states ravaged by tornadoes, flooding, hurricanes and wildfires in various parts of the country and is supported by Congressional Democrats and Republicans.
The measure also includes $600 million in nutrition assistance and $304 million in Community Development Block Grant funding for Puerto Rico – which were key Democratic priorities. More than 1 million residents lost their food stamp payments after the program’s emergency funding expired in March.
The disaster bill has been on hold since last year, largely due to the president’s opposition to sending more money to Puerto Rico. Trump has spent months complaining about fiscal mismanagement by Puerto Rico’s leaders.
The legislation includes billions of dollars in additional funding for states in the Midwest and the South that have experienced catastrophic flooding and tornadoes in 2019. Finally, the bill also includes an extension of the National Flood Insurance Program.