Finger-pointing abounds after Senate deadlocks on Hurricane Michael relief bills

Next steps unclear as parties bicker over Puerto Rico aid
Homes damaged from Hurricane Maria in eastern Puerto Rico on Sept. 30, 2017. (Kirsten Luce/The New York Times)



Homes damaged from Hurricane Maria in eastern Puerto Rico on Sept. 30, 2017. (Kirsten Luce/The New York Times)

Party leaders from Georgia to Capitol Hill vented their frustration on Tuesday after the Senate defeated a pair of bills that would have provided long-delayed aid to Georgia farmers and victims of other recent natural disasters.

Puerto Rico funding continues to be at the center of the bitter fight, which has delayed federal payments to Hurricane Michael and Georgia tornado victims for months. It's now unclear how Congress will move forward on the aid package, even as key deadlines have come and gone on crop bridge loans in the Southeast and Puerto Rico's food stamp payments.

“This is absolutely unacceptable,” Gov. Brian Kemp tweeted.

“While Georgia farmers - who suffered over $2 billion in damages from Hurricane Michael - wait for federal resources, politicians in Washington continue to play games.”

The condemnation was just as firm across the aisle as Democrats put forward a new offer that was quickly rejected by the GOP.

“Make no mistake,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said in a Tuesday floor speech, “we have reached this impasse because the president has said for himself he opposes help for Puerto Rico and Republicans follow along.”

The barbs were traded after senators could not muster enough support for a $13.5 billion Republican aid bill – which tracked closely with a plan offered by Georgia Republicans David Perdue and Johnny Isakson in late February – or a $14 billion-plus Democratic counter-offer late Monday.

The key difference was funding for Puerto Rico, which is still struggling to recover after 2017’s Hurricane Maria.

The GOP measure would set aside $600 million for the island’s food stamp program, which helps feed about 43 percent of the population and has experienced debilitating cuts in recent weeks. Democrats’ plan would spend hundreds of millions more to help rebuild Puerto Rico’s infrastructure.

President Trump recently intensified his attacks on Puerto Rico's political leadership, which he said has grossly mismanaged previously-appropriated funding and doesn't deserve much more.

"Puerto Rico got 91 Billion Dollars for the hurricane, more money than has ever been gotten for a hurricane before, & all their local politicians do is complain & ask for more money," Trump tweeted Tuesday, citing a figure that's about twice as much as federal agencies have approved to date, according to an analysis from the Washington Post. "The pols are grossly incompetent, spend the money foolishly or corruptly, & only take from USA."

Republican senators have claimed Democrats are playing politics in order to hurt the president.

“You’ve got this partisan politics here that’s just blocking it up, and the problem is people back home … they’re really hurting right now,” Perdue told reporters .

Democrats have accused the Trump administration of slowing the release of previously-approved Puerto Rico money and for treating residents of the U.S. territory as second-class citizens.

“As Americans and as Senators, we should stand with all American communities that are affected by disaster. We should not pick and choose who to help in times of need,” said U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Democrats’ top negotiator on the disaster aid package.

Debate over aid money will at least temporarily move to the back burner while key senators continue private negotiations in the days ahead . Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., teed up votes late Monday on several Trump nominees, as well as another “nuclear option” rules change, moves that likely won’t foster bipartisan goodwill in Congress’ upper chamber.

Perdue said he’s been pushing colleagues to agree to a House-Senate conference committee to salvage the aid talks.

“This is not something the Senate does normally - to move fast - but we’ve got to move fast right now,” the first-term Republican said.

Insiders note: This post was ripped and expanded from today's Morning Jolt.

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