Congress Agrees on $19 Billion Disaster Aid Bill with Flood Insurance Brief Extension

By and | May 23, 2019

Lawmakers said that they agreed to a $19.1 billion disaster-aid bill after months of disagreement and that President Donald Trump said he will sign it.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby called the agreement a “good deal.” He added that he spoke to Trump today and “the president said OK.”

Trump’s consent came a day after he walked out of a White House meeting on public works projects with Democratic leaders, saying he wouldn’t negotiate with Democrats as long as they continued congressional investigations of his campaign, businesses and associates.

The president previously insisted that the disaster-aid bill provide more funds for beds for undocumented migrants, leading to an impasse with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This fight over money to address the influx of migrants at the southern border has been put off until June when Congress returns from recess.

The disaster-aid bill finalized Thursday must pass the Senate and House before it goes to Trump for his signature. House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey, a Democrat, supports the deal.

“If the Senate passes the legislation today, House Democrats support clearing it through the House as soon as possible,” Lowey spokesman Evan Hollander said in a statement.

The Senate is working to set up a vote on the measure Thursday. The House, whose members have already left town for a week-long recess, could pass the bill without lawmakers present on Friday if no member objects, according to a Democratic aide.

(Editor’s Note: The disaster funding bill vote in the House has been tabled until next week due to the objection of one member. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) on Friday blocked the unanimous vote because the bill lacks funding for border security.)

Hurricanes, Floods

The disaster plan would provide relief for areas hit by hurricanes, Midwest floods and California wildfires. Southern lawmakers have been clamoring for relief for farmers in states hit by Hurricanes Florence and Michael, which wiped out timber and pecan crops in Alabama and Georgia.

The bill includes $900 million for Puerto Rico, Shelby said. It would also extend through Sept. 30 the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires at the end of the month.

For months, the major obstacle to passing the measure was Trump’s opposition to providing aid to Puerto Rico. In April, Trump told Senate Republicans that Puerto Rico squandered previous disaster assistance and should receive no more. He argued that the island is using funds to pay off its debts, a charge that Puerto Rican officials deny. An earlier version of the bill contained $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Ricans but omitted other rebuilding aid.

Republicans and Democrats blamed each other for the delay in passing the bill, which has languished since December.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the deal shows that as long as Trump stays out of talks, Congress can function.

“On Puerto Rico we got everything we wanted,” he said, noting he suggested dropping the border provisions earlier in the day.

Florida Republican Senator Rick Scott, who has been leading the effort to pass the bill, took a different view.

“This bill isn’t much different from the bill Senator Shelby proposed weeks ago. Chuck Schumer was blocking it for political purposes,” he said.

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