May 28, 2019 / 6:17 PM / 2 months ago

Disaster aid bill worth $19.1 billion blocked again in House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday failed again to pass a $19.1 billion disaster aid bill supported by President Donald Trump after a Republican lawmaker objected to the measure.

FILE PHOTO - A man cycles past Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., U.S. April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Following Senate passage of the legislation last Thursday by a vote of 85-8, House Democratic leaders had hoped to win quick, unanimous approval of the bill on a voice vote and send it to Trump for his expected signature.

But with most lawmakers out of town for a recess until June 4, individual House Republicans have been able to block passage twice - once last Friday and again on Tuesday - by demanding an official roll call vote. Such action would have to wait until the full House returns to work next week.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Democrats will try again to pass the bill on a voice vote Thursday. If that does not work, Hoyer predicted the measure will pass “overwhelmingly” when the House returns next week. A national flood insurance program, which the legislation would extend, expires this Friday, Hoyer said.

For months, lawmakers have been haggling over the disaster aid bill in response to hurricanes in the southeastern United States, severe flooding in the Midwest, devastating wildfires in California and other events.

The $19.1 billion in the bill is intended to help farmers cover their crop losses and rebuild infrastructure hit by disasters, including repairs to U.S. military bases.

On Tuesday Republican Representative Thomas Massie objected to passage, saying there should be a roll-call vote on a bill of such magnitude.

Massie, a Republican and Trump supporter, also told reporters he opposed the bill because there was no plan to pay for the disaster relief. He said he had not coordinated his objections with House Republican leaders or the White House.

“Everybody wants to be a hero by coming in and writing checks (for disaster aid). Those checks aren’t backed up by anything. We’re borrowing the money for all of this,” Massie said.

Congress regularly approves disaster aid bills without any cuts to other programs. Heritage Action, the advocacy arm of the conservative Heritage Foundation, has urged Congress to plan for disasters that occur every year instead of approving “emergency” funds for them after the fact.

Last Friday, another Republican conservative, Representative Chip Roy, objected to the bill, citing concerns that it did not include the $4.5 billion Trump had requested to deal with a surge of Central American immigrants on the U.S. southwestern border with Mexico.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell and Richard Cowan; editing by Tim Ahmann, Chizu Nomiyama and Leslie Adler

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