$19 Billion Disaster Relief Bill Blocked for Second Time

A sign commemorating the rebuilding of the town of Nichols, which was flooded two years earlier from Hurricane Matthew, stands in floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Nichols, S.C. in 2018.

A sign commemorating the rebuilding of the town of Nichols, which was flooded two years earlier from Hurricane Matthew, stands in floodwaters in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence in Nichols, S.C. in 2018. Gerald Herbert/AP Photo

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The House was unable to approve a package of disaster relief funds destined for states hit by hurricanes, wildfires and flooding after a Republican lawmaker lodged an objection Tuesday.

A Republican lawmaker blocked passage of a $19 billion disaster relief bill in the House on Tuesday, marking the second time in a week that conservative lawmakers have thwarted efforts to pass bipartisan legislation meant to help states hit by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.   

Rep. Thomas Massie objected to a request to pass the disaster aid package by unanimous consent during a pro forma session, arguing the legislation should be passed through a roll call vote instead.

“If the speaker of this house felt that this was must-pass legislation then the speaker of this house should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for 10 days,” said Massie, a Republican from Kentucky.

Passage of the relief package was similarly derailed on Friday by Rep. Chip Roy, a freshman Republican from Texas. Objecting to the unanimous consent motion, Roy also cited his concern about the process, as well as the lack of funding in the bill address efforts to deal with the surge of migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border.

House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer spoke on the House floor Tuesday, urging his colleagues not to block the legislation.

“Millions of people are at risk,” said the Maryland Democrat.

Hoyer said the legislation, which was approved by the Senate in an 85-5 vote last week, “needs to be passed as soon as possible for the welfare of the people in this country who have been attacked by natural disasters.”

The Senate vote occurred Thursday after House lawmakers had already left ahead of the Memorial Day holiday.

Much of the $19 billion in relief funding allotted in the bill will go to states hit by Hurricanes Michael and Florence in 2018, including Florida and Georgia. Funding would also go to states hit by wildfires and flooding in 2018 and 2019.

Approximately $3 billion in funding would help farmers recover from the loss of crops during natural disasters. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, agricultural losses in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri are estimated to top $8.5 billion.

The relief package also includes $2.4 billion for Community Development Block Grants that can be spent by states and local governments in areas hard hit by disasters; $1.6 billion for the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program; $1 billion in the Flood Control and Coastal Emergencies account for natural disaster preparation and response; and $600 million for supplement disaster nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico, according to a summary of the bill prepared by the Senate Appropriations Committee

President Trump has said he would sign the disaster aid bill when it reaches his desk.

Several Republican lawmakers from Georgia lamented the delay of the bill’s passage and ripped into their colleagues’ efforts to stall the disaster bill.

“Unfortunately, more clowns showed up today to once again delay disaster relief for the states and farmers devastated by the storms of 2018,” Rep. Austin Scott wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “This bill will pass the House next week, and President Trump will sign it.”

Sen. David Perdue lashed out at Massie on Twitter, chastising him for grandstanding and calling the delay “yet another example of politicians putting their own self-interest ahead of the national interest.”

Andrea Noble is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty.

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