Congress

House finally sends $19.1 billion disaster aid package to Trump’s desk

Trump has said he supports the bill and is expected to sign it

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., was among the Republicans who blocked a disaster aid bill from moving over the Memorial Day recess. That bill now heads to the president’s desk. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The House sent a $19.1 billion disaster aid package to President Donald Trump’s desk Monday, more than a week after the first of three Republican holdouts objected to passing the legislation by unanimous consent.

The bill, which was the result of months of exhaustive negotiations between Republicans, Democrats and the White House, received a vote of 354-58 just hours after the House returned from a weeklong Memorial Day break. 

Trump has said he supports the bill and is expected to sign it.

[GOP Rep. causes $19.1 billion disaster aid bill to stall in House]

The legislation would provide $4.6 billion to help farmers and rural communities, $3.25 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers disaster mitigation projects, $3.2 billion to rebuild military bases and Coast Guard facilities and $2.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants that will help communities rebuild homes and businesses.

The bill took months to come together and was delayed for a variety of reasons, including debate about how much additional aid should go to Puerto Rico to help it continue to recover from two devastating hurricanes that claimed about 3,000 lives in 2017.

The final bill includes a total of $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico residents whose benefits were cut at the beginning of March and $304 million for Community Development Block Grants to help continue the island’s long-term rebuilding process.

[A House Republican may block the disaster aid bill for a third time this week]

The legislation does not include billions in additional funding to address the needs of migrants at the southern border.

The Trump administration requested $4.5 billion on May 1 to provide funding to the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services and Homeland Security to address various aspects of what both Republicans and Democrats have called a crisis at the border.

Negotiators spent weeks trying to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on spending levels and oversight language, but decided to remove those provisions and pass a stand-alone disaster aid bill so that funding could start flowing to communities sooner rather than later.

That agreement was announced May 23 shortly after the House members had taken their last roll call vote and began traveling back to their districts for the break. Senators were still in town, allowing that chamber to pass the measure following an 85-8 vote. But House leadership had to decide whether to wait until members returned to Washington or try to pass the bill through unanimous consent during one of its three pro forma sessions.

They opted for unanimous consent, but Republican Reps. Chip Roy of Texas, Thomas Massie of Kentucky and John W. Rose of Tennessee all took turns objecting to speedy approval.

All three listed concerns with the process, saying they believed more than $19 billion in unoffset spending should receive a roll call vote. They were also concerned about the bill adding to the debt and the fact it didn’t include additional money to address the situation at the border.

Final passage of the disaster supplemental allows appropriators to turn their attention to the border situation, which the Trump administration argues needs a cash infusion as soon as this month in order to be able to provide food, shelter and medicine for thousands of migrant children traveling without parents or guardians. Agreement on additional funds for HHS and DHS stalled due to concerns over an information-sharing deal between the two agencies that Democrats said could prevent potential sponsors from coming forward to take custody of the unaccompanied children. 

Capitol Hill leaders also need to figure out a plan for regular fiscal 2020 appropriations, which have gotten off to a slow start given lack of agreement between the chambers and White House on topline funding levels. The House will attempt to kick-start the process next week with floor votes on a nearly $1 trillion, five-bill package encompassing some 70 percent of all next year’s allotted appropriations. 

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