House GOP Agrees on $81 Billion in Disaster SpendingBy
If passed, disaster aid this year would total $133 billion
White House had requested $44 billion; states sought more
House Republicans on Monday proposed $81 billion in disaster relief for areas hit by hurricanes and wildfires, the largest standalone aid bill in recent years.
The aid likely would be attached to a government spending bill that must be passed this week to keep the government operating after Friday. The disaster spending is being pushed forward by Republicans from Texas, Florida and California who threatened to oppose the spending bill if hurricane relief wasn’t included.
If enacted, the measure would bring total disaster aid this year to $133 billion.
“This legislation is the next step in helping our fellow Americans recover from multiple, back-to-back, devastating disasters, including some of the largest major hurricanes, wildfires, and agriculture losses this country has ever seen," House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey said in a statement.
The bill is almost double the $44 billion disaster request sent to Congress last month by the White House but falls short of requests by the affected states and Puerto Rico.
Of the funding, $28.6 billion would go to the Homeland Security Department, which would reimburse 90 percent of state wildfire costs. The Transportation and Housing and Urban Development departments would get $27.8 billion, with most of that going to the Community Development Block Grant Program. The bill has $1.3 billion in funds to repair federal highways.
May ‘Need Changes’
“The dollar figures I hear are fine," said second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas. "How it’s distributed may need some changes.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Monday that passing a disaster bill this week is a priority, along with the stopgap funding for government operations through Jan. 19. Agreement on the disaster aid may help ease the way for passage of the funding measure, though there are still some disagreements on defense and domestic spending.
House Rules Chairman Pete Sessions of Texas predicted that conservatives will support the bill, despite a lack of offsetting spending cuts, because they understand the urgent need for aid. The Texas port on the Gulf of Mexico, through which military armaments pass, is "still in shambles," he said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and his leadership team faced a challenge in crafting the proposal because it isn’t paid for through spending cuts elsewhere in the budget, and that could cause members of the small-government House Freedom Caucus to vote against it.
"It would be very difficult to vote for that" without offsetting spending cuts, Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows of North Carolina said. But he predicted that it won’t be offset in the final legislation.
Any attempt to cut spending elsewhere would threaten Democratic support for the temporary government funding legislation in the House, which may be needed if the Senate attaches other provisions.
The $81 billion figure exceeds other standalone appropriations for disaster relief, including $50.6 billion after Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and a $60 billion measure after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, although there were multiple additional bills providing aid for Katrina.
The Agriculture Department would receive $2.6 billion to address crop losses such as those affecting citrus growers. The Army Corps of Engineers would receive $12 billion, including for projects to mitigate future floods.
The bill would provide $2.9 billion for schools and $1.66 billion for small business loans. Money would also be provided to repair weather and space agency facilities.
Florida has requested $1.5 billion to help its citrus industry recover from hurricane Irma. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has requested $61 billion in aid for his state, while officials in Puerto Rico have sought $94 billion.
Congress has already approved $52 billion in extra disaster aid this year following hurricanes Irma and Maria and devastating wildfires in California.
Buried in the text of the bill is a provision increasing farm subsidies for cotton producers.
— With assistance by Laura Davison, and Anna Edgerton