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GOP conservative blocks overdue $19B disaster bill, for now

WASHINGTON — A House GOP conservative complaining of Washington’s free-spending and opaque ways blocked a long-overdue $19 billion disaster aid bill on Friday, extending a tempest over hurricane and flood relief that has left the measure meandering for months.

Texas Republican Chip Roy, a former aide to Texas firebrand Sen. Ted Cruz, objected to speeding the measure through a nearly empty chamber, also complaining that it does not contain any of President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion request for dealing with a migrant refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border.

“It is a bill that that includes nothing to address the international emergency and humanitarian crisis we face at our southern border,” Roy said.

May try next week

Democrats said the House will try to again pass the measure next week during a session, like Friday’s, that would otherwise be pro forma. If that doesn’t succeed, a quick bipartisan vote would come after Congress returns next month from its Memorial Day recess.

Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., said she was very disappointed at Roy’s action. “The fact that one person from a state that is directly affected could object, it’s just irresponsible,” she said. Texas was slammed by record floods last spring, though not Roy’s San Antonio-area district.

“This is a rotten thing to do. This is going to pass,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Hurricane aid delayed

The relief measure would deliver money to Southern states suffering from last fall’s hurricanes, Midwestern states deluged with springtime floods and fire-ravaged rural California, among others. Puerto Rico would also get help for hurricane recovery, ending a months-long dispute between Trump and powerful Democrats like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.

Trump said Thursday that he will enthusiastically sign the bill, which delivers much-needed help to many areas in the country where he performs well with voters.

The House drama came less than 24 hours after the Senate passed the bill by a sweeping 85-8 vote that represented a brush-back pitch by a chamber weary of Trump’s theatrics and where some members are increasingly showing impatience with the lack of legislative action.

Trump gave support

Trump said he favored the bill even though $4 billion-plus to deal with the humanitarian crisis involving Central American migrants border has been removed.

“I didn’t want to hold that up any longer,” Trump said. “I totally support it.”

Much of the money would go to Trump strongholds such as the Florida Panhandle, rural Georgia and North Carolina, and Iowa and Nebraska. Several military facilities would receive money to rebuild, including Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Disaster aid bills are invariably bipartisan, but this round bogged down. And a late-week breakdown on the appropriations panel left important must-do work for lawmakers when Congress returns next month.

After months of fighting, Democrats bested Trump and won further aid to Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory slammed by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

Talks this week over Trump’s border request broke down, however, over conditions Democrats wanted to place on money to provide care and shelter for asylum-seeking Central American migrants. Talks were closely held and the opaque process sometimes left even veteran lawmakers in the dark.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., accused Democrats of insisting on “poison pills” that made the talks collapse. But his office wouldn’t go on the record to specify what they were. Other Republicans, especially those trying to project a bipartisan image for next year’s campaign, were more circumspect.

“Right now the total dollar amounts are pretty close on border security. Democrats and Republicans are pretty much in agreement about it,” said Sen. David Perdue. “We’re just trying to work out some detailed language, but we didn’t think we could wait any longer to get this done.”

Fast developments

Schumer played a key role up to and during fast-paced developments on Thursday that propelled the measure through the Senate and appeared before reporters to take a victory lap after the vote — while McConnell gave a speech lamenting how long the process took and casting blame at Democrats for killing the must-do border aid package.

“This wasn’t money for the wall, or even for law enforcement. It was money so that the federal government could continue to house, feed, and care for the men, women, and children showing up on our southern border,” McConnell said. “Money for agencies that are currently running on fumes.”

All sides agree that another bill of more than $4 billion will be needed almost immediately to refill nearly empty agency accounts to care for migrants, though Democrats are fighting hard against the detention facilities requested by Trump.

Trump rushed to try to claim credit, too, though his budget office never submitted an official request for the disaster aid. But he talked up the aid in a recent trip to the timber-rich Florida Panhandle, his best region in a state without which it’s virtually impossible for him to win reelection.

“Well, we’re going to get the immigration money later, according to everybody,” Trump said. “I have to take care of my farmers with the disaster relief.”

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