- The Washington Times - Friday, May 10, 2019

Over objections from President Trump, the House on Friday passed a $19.1 billion disaster relief package to help states recover from a spate of recent hurricanes, wildfires and floods, as lawmakers search for a way forward on the long-stalled priority.

Democrats said they addressed past Republican concerns by adding money to an earlier version that’s intended to address more recent flooding in the Midwestern parts of the United States and tornadoes in the south.

“This legislation attempts to meet the needs of all of America’s disaster-stricken communities, whether in Puerto Rico or the Midwest, California or the Carolinas,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, New York Democrat.

The final vote was 257-150, with 34 Republicans voting yes and zero Democrats voting no.

Later Friday, Mr. Trump gave unspecified plaudits to the GOP.

“Great Republican vote today on Disaster Relief Bill,” the president said on Twitter. “We will now work out a bipartisan solution that gets relief for our great States and Farmers. Thank you to all. Get me a Bill that I can quickly sign!”

The base package had totaled about $17.2 billion, though the price tag ended up topping $19 billion after lawmakers agreed to add more money through the amendment process.

But the package had been opposed by Mr. Trump, who complained about the amount of aid that has gone to Puerto Rico to recover from hurricanes in 2017 and said the Democrats’ bill hurts farmers, states and border security.

“We want to do much better than this. All sides keep working and send a good BILL for immediate signing!” the president tweeted on Thursday.

Senate leaders have been trading offers, but they have reached no major breakthroughs in the past month. In early April, senators had filibustered both a GOP-written bill and an earlier version that had cleared the Democrat-led House.

“Unfortunately, taking up a disaster bill for the second time without addressing the administration’s concerns will not increase its chance of becoming law,” said Rep. Kay Granger, the top Republican on the House Appropriations Committee.

The impasse over disaster aid, an issue that frequently brings together lawmakers from both parties and various regions, doesn’t necessarily bode well for coming negotiations on appropriations bills for fiscal 2020, which collectively could total about $1.3 trillion in discretionary spending.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, Alabama Republican, has frequently mentioned a “three-legged stool” when discussing disaster aid, meaning he wants to put together legislation that can garner support from the House, the Senate and the White House.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he would like to get a package through the Senate before lawmakers leave at the end of the month for a week-long recess for Memorial Day.

Republicans have discussed adding additional money for Puerto Rico, after Mr. Shelby had included $600 million in nutrition assistance for the island in the version that stalled in the Senate.

But Mr. Trump has chided leaders in Puerto Rico for mismanaging their money and says the island has already been allocated more than enough funding.

“They got $91 billion … the largest amount of money ever given for a hurricane to a state, to any element,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Florida this week. “I think that the people of Puerto Rico are very grateful to Donald Trump for what we’ve done for them.”

A senior administration official had said the figure, which Mr. Trump has invoked repeatedly, covers almost $41 billion that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies have allocated for Puerto Rico disaster relief, plus an additional $50 billion in estimated future costs “over the life of the disaster.”

Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in response that the president is holding disaster aid to other Americans hostage because of a “petty political grudge” with residents of Puerto Rico.

“Instead of rallies and false, inflammatory rhetoric, the president should work with Democrats to help rebuild our stricken communities,” said Mr. Leahy, Vermont Democrat.

Though Puerto Rico has received much of the attention in the debate, other issues also are in play.

Mr. Shelby recently has been advocating for language that would help unlock money from a harbor maintenance trust fund — a move that the White House has resisted. About $9 billion is in the fund, which gets its revenue through a user fee on importers at U.S. ports.

Republicans unsuccessfully pushed this week to amend the package to add the $4.5 billion in emergency money the White House requested last week to address the influx of illegal immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“Resources are urgently needed to address the health and safety of our law enforcement personnel as well as families with children who are seeking refuge,” Ms. Granger said. “This bill does nothing to address this crisis.”

Mr. Shelby told reporters Thursday that lawmakers would be circling back with the president.

“Ultimately, we will be talking to the president about all this, and we always do,” he said.

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