The outline of a mobile homes is all that remains in the Ridgewood Mobile Home Park in Paradise, Calif., where a team recovered one victim on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018 as the search continues for victims of the Camp Fire. (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

$19.1 billion disaster aid package blocked in the House by a Republican, again

By Jennifer Shutt, CQ-Roll Call

WASHINGTON — A second Republican lawmaker has blocked Congress from clearing a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill.

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky. on Tuesday objected to the House passing the bill that would help states and territories recover from a series of deadly storms and wildfires.

“If Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi considered this must-pass legislation, why did she send everybody home on recess for 10 days without voting on it? To pass a $19 billion bill like this, without a recorded vote, is legislative malpractice,” Massie said prior to the unanimous consent request, made by Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., D-Ga.

Massie also objected to passage of a two-week extension of the National Flood Insurance Program, which expires at the end of this week. The Senate passed the measure by voice vote before leaving town May 23.

The next opportunity for passage will come Thursday afternoon, when the House meets for another pro forma session. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., said there will be another attempt then. If a lawmaker objects to passage then, the bill will likely need a recorded vote sometime after the House returns from its weeklong Memorial Day break on June 3.

Prior to Massie’s objection to the disaster aid measure, Hoyer implored lawmakers to let the bill pass. “It needs to be passed as soon as possible for the welfare of our people in this country who have been attacked by natural disasters,” Hoyer told Massie and the rest of the small group of lawmakers in the chamber.

Massie follows Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, who objected to the House clearing the disaster bill May 24 during its last pro forma session.

Robert Donachie, a top aide to Roy, said Tuesday morning that Roy planned to remain in Austin and wouldn’t be traveling to Washington to renew his objection should Democrats try again.

Roy said on May 24 that he blocked the request due to concerns about process as well as leaving out billions of dollars the Trump administration sought to help agencies deal with an unprecedented surge of migrants at the Mexican border.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement on the disaster bill May 23 after dropping the border aid title in a dispute over information sharing provisions that Democrats believed could prevent unaccompanied children from being released from custody to family members.

The deal came after the House took its last roll call votes before the weeklong break, therefore the only way that chamber can clear the bill this week is through unanimous consent, unless Democratic leaders end the recess early and bring members back.

The Senate approved the bill in an 85-8 vote on May 23, making the House the last obstacle before the bill can head to President Donald Trump’s desk.

Trump has said he plans to sign the legislation, which likely has the votes to clear the House once lawmakers return from recess, even if they can’t clear it by UC this week. Roy’s blockade was too much for fellow Texas Republican and House Appropriations ranking member Kay Granger, who called his move a “political stunt” on May 24.

“As Republicans and as conservatives, we believe that there is no more important function for the federal government than to be there during disasters,” Granger said in a statement. She noted the measure would free up $4 billion in relief funds for Texas through the Community Development Block Grant program dating back to Hurricane Harvey in 2017, while providing new assistance for areas hit by flooding and tornadoes this year and last.

Some Republicans pushing for aid laid the blame at the feet of House Democratic leaders, arguing there’s no reason they had to leave town May 23 before voting on the bill. “I’m disappointed that Speaker Pelosi closed the House of Representatives down before they could vote on this … because politicians wanted to leave early” for the Memorial Day break, Senate Finance Chairman Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, told reporters Tuesday.

Grassley said he assumes the measure will clear the House next week “as soon as they get back in session.”

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