Gov. Brian Kemp joined forces with nine other governors on Tuesday to make a bipartisan push for federal disaster assistance as Capitol Hill negotiators struggled to finalize an aid package for the victims of Hurricane Michael and other storms.
In a letter to President Trump and congressional leaders, Kemp and his colleagues requested their “urgent attention” to advance a multi-billion-dollar bill that would help states recover after “historic levels of destruction.”
“It is incumbent upon our national leadership to finalize a robust, timely, and fair package of assistance,” the group wrote.
Signatories included other Southeastern states, including Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina. The governors of California, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin also signed onto the document.
The letter was significant because it marked the first time Kemp joined forces with the Democratic leaders of states like California and Illinois to push for disaster money. Missing from the document, however, was any mention of Puerto Rico, the issue that has bogged down negotiations for months.
Trump previously refused to send any additional federal aid to the island beyond $610 million in nutrition assistance, arguing that the U.S. territory has been irresponsible with previously-approved money.
Democrats have insisted that any final disaster relief bill include more money to help Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure following 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
The disagreement has left the package in limbo for months, despite broad agreement that the states need the emergency assistance.
Negotiators appeared on the verge of a breakthrough late last week, when Republicans began lining up behind an offer that included an additional $300 million for Puerto Rico. But then the White House reportedly requested that senators tack on $4.5 billion in border security spending, a request that amounted to a poison pill for Democrats.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday indicated that he would prefer to keep the border security and disaster relief debates separate, raising the prospect that negotiators could reach an agreement in short order. He said he wanted the Senate to pass a bill before the chamber’s Memorial Day recess.
“We’re open to additional Puerto Rican assistance. They’ve certainly gotten a substantial amount already, but we’re open to discussing additional,” the Kentucky Republican told reporters. “We need to get this done.”
Minutes later, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said a disaster relief bill would “pass like a hot knife through butter” if Republicans agreed to “treat everyone equally.”
Deal or not, House Democrats don’t plan on waiting for the Senate. The chamber has plans to advance a $17 billion Democratic proposal later this week, a bill that some Georgia Republicans have privately indicated they’d have a hard time rejecting.
The impasse has left Georgia farmers hit hard by Hurricane Michael scrambling to make backup plans for the 2019 planting season.
Georgia U.S. Sen.s Johnny Isakson and David Perdue both expressed exasperation at the state of play on Tuesday.
“Some people I used to go to ... aren’t easy to reach anymore, and the answers are non-specific,” said Isakson.
“Games are being played, and they’re being played with the lives and the fortunes of Georgians, and I hate that,” he added.
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