House sends $19 billion disaster aid bill to Trump's desk

Ending months of delays and partisan squabbles over how to deliver relief to victims of hurricanes, floods, wildfires, and other natural disasters, the House on Monday evening gave final approval to a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill, sending it on to President Donald Trump for his final signature.

"Today we are rejecting the political stunts and grandstanding that have made it difficult to deliver much needed disaster relief," said Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), referring to the objections by GOP lawmakers in the House over the last ten days which prevented quick approval of the aid plan.

"This bill provides much needed relief to more than 40 states and territories to help them recover," said Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), who pointedly noted that the main reason the bill was delayed because of one specific matter.

"This bill was stalled for months because of the Administration's concern about providing additional assistance to Puerto Rico," Granger said, as the bill would provide about $1.4 billion for the island territory, including $600 million in emergency food aid.

One Republican, Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida, whose Panhandle district took the brunt of Hurricane Michael, chided his GOP colleagues for stringing out a final vote on the disaster package.

“To my colleagues who have unnecessarily delayed this bill - and who may even today may vote against it - I ask, why?” Dunn said on the House floor.

The final House vote was 354 to 58, with all the 'No' votes coming from Republicans. The Senate had passed the bill 85-8 before Memorial Day.

“After an unfortunate delay, I'm pleased to see the U.S. House pass disaster aid legislation,” said Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA).  “Our Georgia farmers and millions of Americans are hurting, and I hope it will quickly be signed into law.”

“After an unnecessary delay, the House finally passed the disaster relief agreement that passed the Senate nearly two weeks ago,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).

“It's long overdue,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL).

Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) said, “the fact that it took 237 days for Congress to pass a disaster relief bill after Hurricane Michael is beyond embarrassing.”

Conservative groups like Club For Growth had urged GOP lawmakers to vote against the disaster relief, arguing the cost should have been offset by budget cuts in other areas of government spending.

"Increased federal spending is unacceptable at a time when Congress is incurring irresponsible annual deficits," the group argued.

"I'm still troubled that we're poised to spend $19 billion that is not paid for," said Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX), one of the Republicans who blocked House action on the disaster bill in late May.

The bill not only includes $19 billion in disaster relief, but also final approval of provisions in the plan which will force the Trump Administration to release $16 billion in disaster funding approved by lawmakers back in February of 2018.

That money - which includes $4.4 billion for Texas, and over $8 billion for Puerto Rico - has been held up by the Trump Administration for months, with no public explanation offered as to why money to help deal with hurricanes in 2017 still hasn't been spent with the 2019 hurricane season now underway.

“The $4.3 billion in disaster relief aid is overdue and will go a long way in helping Texans as they continue to rebuild their lives after (Hurricane) Harvey,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX).

Even after three separate objections by Republicans had postponed final action on the bill for ten days, there was little debate on the House floor about the measure on Monday afternoon, as lawmakers returned from a week back in their home states.