After six months of congressional delays on disaster aid, three House Republicans have been determined to stall the process even further.
Last Thursday, the Senate — with buy-in from House Democrats and President Donald Trump — approved a $19.1 billion package to provide disaster relief for Americans hit by wildfires, flooding, and hurricanes. On Friday, however, House Republican Chip Roy (R-TX) said he disagreed with how the House votes were going down, single-handedly blocking the package from going through. This Tuesday and Thursday, Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY), and John Rose (R-TN) did the same.
Roy argued that the House’s approach, which included passing disaster relief without all members present, was too “swampy.” He also questioned the impact of disaster aid on the federal deficit, and criticized the lack of money allocated for border security, calling for another vote to take place that would include a recorded vote of every member. Massie and Rose echoed much of this sentiment.
“Nearly all of my 431 colleagues are absent as the speaker of the House seeks to pass a $19 billion spending bill. ... Trying to pass nearly $20 billion in new spending while the majority of Congress is not even in Washington reflects another act of irresponsible big government,” Rose said.
While all three members questioned the House procedure on this vote, the process they’re protesting is actually a common one.
The House last Friday morning was set to pass the disaster relief package by a congressional procedure known as “unanimous consent,” since many members had already left town for the Memorial Day recess. Under “unanimous consent,” if a proposal is brought to the floor for a vote and no lawmaker objects, it passes. It’s a tool used frequently for uncontroversial legislation in order to streamline the number of bills the House or Senate is able to consider.
Roy, Massie, and Rose, however, did object, preventing the three votes from going through. The House is now likely to take a vote on the matter next week when lawmakers are back in town and expected to pass the package with little issue.
As such, the three Republicans’ political posturing isn’t set to accomplish much. It just means millions of people in Puerto Rico, Florida, California, and Iowa will have to keep on waiting for vital aid.
Disaster aid has already seen many delays
Disaster aid, which was once a straightforward legislative ask, has already seen significant delays this time around, much of which could be attributed to President Donald Trump.
As Vox’s Tara Golshan reported, one of the major sticking points in the package was additional aid for Puerto Rico, which Trump was not interested in providing. (He supported $600 million in nutrition assistance, but nothing more than that.) His longstanding aversion to helping Puerto Rico came down to allegations he’s made, with no evidence, about the regional government mismanaging funds.
Democrats, however, had pushed for additional funding to help bolster infrastructure, given the scale of the destruction the island experienced. In one area, residents in Puerto Rico were struggling to get medical care, after a major regional hospital was damaged during the hurricane.
In addition to the conflict over Puerto Rico, the White House in May made a request for border aid that wound up emerging as a major hurdle as well. Though a chunk of this $4.5 billion ask was for humanitarian aid — both parties have agreed that large numbers of children and family migrants have overwhelmed US immigration resources at the southern border — Democrats opposed $1.1 billion in additional funds that would go to other operational costs like detention beds.
Some House Republicans, including Roy, were upset because the final package did not really give Trump any wins on either front. It ultimately included $1.4 billion in aid for Puerto Rico and stripped out the border aid completely, something Senate Republicans said they would consider at a later time.
The fallout of this delay is staggering
The delays on disaster aid have had major consequences: It’s now been more than a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, seven months since Hurricane Michael hit Florida, and two months since flooding destroyed towns in Iowa and Missouri.
While lawmakers and Trump had been arguing over what an appropriations package should look like, millions of people in these regions have been waiting for more support. As Golshan reported, these disasters have affected Americans nationwide, and Congress has simply been sitting on billions of dollars needed to help rebuild housing, improve infrastructure resiliency, and provide nutritional assistance:
At this point, the need for aid touches every part of the country — blue states and red states. A mid-March “bomb cyclone” has caused nearly $1.5 billion in damage in Nebraska alone. Farmers along the Missouri River in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa are still trying to see how they can salvage their land. Iowa is estimating around a $214 million loss. California is still recovering from wildfires. And in the South, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and late freezes have all taken a toll on the agricultural industry and surrounding businesses.
The precedent set by this fight is especially concerning: Efforts to rebuild have been left hanging in the balance while the partisan squabbles continue. And the politicization of the negotiations doesn’t bode well for the next time Americans may need help after a natural disaster, either.