Disaster-Relief Bill Stalls in Senate
A partisan squabble over funds to help Puerto Rico continue its long recovery and rebuilding from two hurricanes in 2017 has tied up a wide-ranging spending package on Capitol Hill. At stake in the fight are hundreds of millions of dollars for reconstruction and related work around the U.S.
President Trump did little to break the standoff—which is centered in the Senate—deriding Puerto Rico’s leaders in a series of tweets.
The House acted first on disaster relief this year, shortly after Democrats assumed the majority there. The chamber on Jan. 16 passed a $14.2-billion disaster-aid measure, which included $3.1 billion for infrastructure and economic development programs, plus $2.5 billion for resiliency-related work, according to Appropriations Committee Democrats.
But Senate Republican leaders didn’t embrace the House-passed version. Instead, on March 26—as heavy flooding hit the Midwest—Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) unveiled a $13.5-billion alternative package. Some infrastructure line-items in Shelby’s bill are similar or identical to the allocations in the House-passed bill. For example, the House version has $715 million for Army Corps of Engineers civil-works construction; Shelby’s proposal includes $740 million.
Both also have about $850 million for military construction and include $1.65 billion to reimburse states for costs they incurred for post-disaster highway and bridge repairs and other expenses.
Senate Democrats on April 4 offered an alternative to Shelby’s plan, proposing to add $3.2 billion to the Shelby package. Sen. Patrick Leahy (Vt.), Appropriations’ top Democrat, said $2.5 billion of the new funds would address damage from Midwest floods and tornadoes in Alabama. He also said it would add $462 million for Puerto Rico, including $158 million for rebuilding water infrastructure.
But Senate Republicans didn’t support the Democrats’ plan. At ENR press time, that left the outlook for disaster-aid legislation unclear.