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Hurricane States Demand Disaster Aid   12/14 06:07

   Lawmakers from hard-hit states such as Florida are demanding tens of 
billions of dollars of hurricane relief and rebuilding funds as part of another 
temporary Washington spending bill to keep the government from shutting down 
over Christmas.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lawmakers from hard-hit states such as Florida are 
demanding tens of billions of dollars of hurricane relief and rebuilding funds 
as part of another temporary Washington spending bill to keep the government 
from shutting down over Christmas.

   Hurricane money is one of many pressing items as GOP leaders Wednesday 
evening unveiled an opening bid in the party's strategy to avert a government 
shutdown next weekend. Plenty of hurdles remain, though, and a shutdown that 
could strike just before Christmas isn't out of the question.

   The measure released by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney 
Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., would keep the nondefense agencies of the government 
open through Jan. 19 while passing a huge Pentagon spending bill covering the 
entire 2018 budget year ending on Sept. 30.

   The leadership-sponsored measure, however, doesn't contain hurricane relief 
demanded by many Republicans and has already been declared dead on arrival in 
the Senate by top Democrat Chuck Schumer of New York.

   Congress last week passed a two-week stopgap spending bill, called a 
continuing resolution in Washington-speak. This "CR" bought time for 
negotiations on the party's signature tax bill, but talks with Democrats such 
as Schumer on the budget, disaster aid, children's health and other leftovers 
aren't going as smoothly.

   The measure unveiled by Frelinghuysen fulfills a gambit proposed by some 
Republicans to try to force the Senate to pass a huge full-year Pentagon 
spending bill along with the temporary funding needed to avert a shutdown. The 
defense measure, which would award the Pentagon with a $73 billion budget hike, 
is a top priority for the GOP's legion of defense hawks.

   That move won't fly, however, with Senate Democrats emboldened by Tuesday's 
surprise win in the Alabama Senate race. And the idea ran into a buzz-saw of 
opposition from hurricane-state lawmakers at Wednesday's GOP meeting, who were 
upset after Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told them the hurricane relief package 
wasn't ready.

   "I can tell you, there are a lot of us from these disaster-affected states 
who are not going to support a CR absent supplemental relief being taken care 
of before Christmas," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla.

   Driving the House GOP's moves is the party's endgame goal, at least for 
December --- to freeze Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California out of the 
negotiations and deny her the leverage to win protections for immigrants 
commonly called "Dreamers" as part of the year-end measure. These are 
immigrants who were brought to the country illegally as children and were given 
protections by former President Barack Obama --- only to be reversed by Trump 
back in September.

   But Schumer can't be frozen out, despite the hopes of some House 
conservatives. Even GOP hard-liners acknowledge that Schumer and Senate 
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., could bounce the House measure right 
back with a bipartisan measure that the House might have little choice but to 
accept. That could include flood aid and a bipartisan, Pelosi-backed 
reauthorization of a popular children's health insurance program known as CHIP. 
Frelinghuysen's bill contains a GOP-drafted CHIP measure.

   "The Senate will strip out the defense piece, predictably, and send it back 
to us," said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.

   Another complication for the year-end package is the potential addition of 
subsidies for low-income people participating in the Affordable Care Act. 
That's a demand of Sen. Susan Collins, a moderate from Maine who won a pledge 
from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to retain such market-stabilizing 
"cost-sharing" subsidies --- which help with out-of-pocket costs such as 
deductibles and co-payments --- in exchange for her commitment to support the 
tax measure. Some liberal media observers have opined that Collins got 
snookered and that the promise won't be honored by House Republicans.

   "I am confident that the agreement that I negotiated will be honored," 
Collins said Wednesday. "The mechanics of doing it still need to be worked out 
but all you cynics in the press will have to be eating crow come Dec. 31."


(KA)

 
 
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