House Republicans are proposing to direct $81 billion in taxpayer money to respond to this year's hurricanes and wildfires in what would be the single largest emergency spending bill since 2009's supplemental funding for the war on terrorism.
A bill filed Monday by House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) includes $28 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency programs, $26 billion in disaster recovery block grants and $12 billion for infrastructure repairs, as well as billions in funding for agriculture, education and small-business loans.
If passed, it would be the third installment of federal disaster aid aimed at victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and more recent wildfires in California and other Western states. Congress previously appropriated $15.2 billion in September and $36.5 billion in October; the House bill would bring total disaster funding for the year to more than $130 billion — far outstripping federal spending in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012.
The new proposal nearly doubles a $44 billion request made by the Trump administration — a proposal lawmakers of both parties slammed as wholly inadequate to meet the needs in Texas, Florida, California, Puerto Rico and other afflicted areas.
The request comes as Congress races toward a midnight Friday deadline to extend federal funding and avert a partial government shutdown that could wreak havoc during the holiday season. On Tuesday, major differences remained between the House and the Senate on the funding, not to mention between Republicans and Democrats.
House Republicans are planning to attach the disaster aid to a larger spending bill set for a vote this week that would increase military funding and extend it through September while offering a month-long stopgap to all other government agencies.
Senate Republicans have their own plans to attach other provisions that the House is threatening not to accept — in particular, measures that would stabilize the health insurance markets established under the Affordable Care Act. That is part of a deal GOP leaders struck to win support from Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) on the tax overhaul bill.
Numerous House Republicans warned Tuesday that the health-care provisions would be a nonstarter in their chamber, and they cautioned Senate leaders not to send them over for passage in the House.
"I'm not spoiling for a fight, but I'm also not — just because it's Christmastime and everybody's in a good mood — interested in bankrupting the country, either, and encumbering my constituents with funding insurance companies that are showing record profits," said Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
Top Republican leaders remained trained on the tax bill Tuesday and did not address their spending plans in public remarks. But House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) told lawmakers in a closed-door meeting Tuesday morning that the health insurance measures would not pass, especially without language barring federal funding for abortions, according to multiple legislators who attended.
Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) warned Republicans that Democrats would not vote for any spending bill that did not emerge from a comprehensive bipartisan negotiation — suggesting that a bare-bones stopgap measure extending funding into January would be the only alternative.
Democrats are pushing for an agreement to increase domestic spending alongside the military funding hike Republicans seek, as well as an accord on legal status for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children.
"If we are not able to reach a global deal by this Friday on these many issues, there will be a temptation to do a short-term funding bill with some of these items but not others," Schumer said. "That won't work. We should do all of these things together instead of a piecemeal, week-by-week fashion."
Schumer also criticized the House disaster funding bill, saying it does not fairly treat Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, both devastated by Hurricane Maria: "It's a step in the right direction but not good enough."
Some House Republicans balked Tuesday at the notion of another stopgap, especially one that did not increase military funding. But others said there was little chance of a government shutdown over the issue, citing the impending passage of the landmark tax bill and the approaching holidays. "I just don't get the sense that a lot of people are wanting to have that fight," said Rep. Bill Flores (R-Tex.).