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
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
"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."