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House Republicans block $19.1 billion nationwide disaster aid bill for third time

The U.S. Capitol dome is seen through a water fountain on Capitol Hill. (Alex Brandon/AP)

House conservatives blocked a bipartisan $19.1 billion disaster aid bill for the third time Thursday, once again thwarting Democrats’ efforts to pass the long-
delayed legislation that is supported by President Trump.

The objection was voiced by freshman Rep. John Rose (R-Tenn.) after Democrats sought to advance the legislation via unanimous consent. That’s a process that can be used to pass bills when the House is not in session — as it currently is not — as long as no lawmaker objects.

But Rose’s objection meant the bill that would deliver assistance to states and territories hard hit by hurricanes, flooding and wildfires did not advance, just as happened twice in the past week with other conservative lawmakers stepping in to make the objection.

“Our nation is $22 trillion in debt,” Rose said in brief remarks in a nearly empty House chamber. He said trying to pass nearly $20 billion in new spending was “another act of irresponsible big government.”

Days after Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.) blocked passage of a disaster aid package, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) blocked a second effort to pass the bill on May 28. (Video: C-SPAN)

The conservatives say that such a significant piece of legislation should be debated and voted in full, not rushed through with the House out of session. Rose called on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to bring lawmakers back to Washington during the week-long Memorial Day recess.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Tex.), who was the first to hold up the bill last week, also complained because the bill excluded a separate emergency spending request for the border that the administration had asked for. Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) blocked the bill Tuesday.

The House did approve by voice vote a two-week extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which was set to expire Friday.

Disaster aid stalls again in House after second Republican objects

The conservatives’ stance has angered Democrats and fellow Republicans alike, who have been trying for months to reach agreement on the legislation. But the hang-up is destined to be short-lived, given that the House will come back into session next week, at which point Democratic leaders plan to bring up the bill and pass it under ordinary procedures.

“We were sent to Congress to solve problems, not to make them worse,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. “Yet House Republicans have again delayed desperately needed relief for American families and communities — even as tornadoes and storms continue to hit the Midwest. It is beyond comprehension that anyone would think 15 minutes of fame is worth making disaster victims, like those in flood-battered Tennessee, wait even longer for the help they need.”

Much of the months-long delay on the bill stemmed from a protracted fight between Trump and Democrats over increasing aid to Puerto Rico, which ultimately gets more than $900 million in the bill. The legislation funds an array of government programs to help local communities, farmers, service members and others affected by the natural disasters that have hit the United States since 2017, including wildfires in California, flooding in the Midwest, and hurricanes and tornadoes in the South. The tornadoes that have hit Ohio, Kansas and elsewhere in recent days are not specifically addressed, as they occurred after the bill was written, and cost assessments need to be conducted before federal disaster money is allocated.

Trump voiced support for the final bill after it passed the Senate last week. Nonetheless, the White House has not publicly criticized the conservatives who have blocked it from advancing. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway blamed Pelosi on Wednesday when asked about the lawmakers who had blocked the bill.

“They object to Speaker Pelosi and the way she runs the House,” Conway said, criticizing Pelosi for not having members in session often enough. She reiterated that Trump intends to sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Pelosi criticized the Republicans who were obstacles to swift passage of the measure.

“This is staggering. House Republicans have once again heartlessly sabotaged the passage of an urgently-needed, bipartisan bill to bring relief to millions of families across America devastated by natural disasters,” she said in a statement Thursday. “Every day that House Republicans obstruct and delay, more American families are left to suffer. This sabotage is unconscionable, dangerous and must stop.

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