U.S. disaster aid bill blocked again as Republican objects

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. Republican lawmaker on Thursday blocked a $19.1 billion package to help Americans recover from a string of natural disasters, delaying passage for at least a few more days until the full House of Representatives can vote on it next week.

FILE PHOTO: The contents of grain silos which burst from flood damage are shown in Fremont County, Iowa, U.S., March 29, 2019. Photo taken March 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Polansek/File Photo

President Donald Trump supports the bill and the Senate passed it a week ago before leaving Washington for a recess. House Democrats have tried three times since last Friday to win quick, unanimous approval on a voice vote.

But with most lawmakers out of town until Monday, conservative House Republicans have been able to block passage each of the three times by requesting an official roll call vote. Such action would have to wait until the full House returns to work next week.

Thursday’s objection was made by first-term Representative John Rose, who did not like the procedure being attempted for passage.

“Trying to pass nearly $20 billion in new spending while the majority of Congress is not even in Washington reflects another act of irresponsible big government,” Rose said to a nearly empty chamber.

However, neither Rose nor any other member objected to quick passage of a temporary extension of a federal flood insurance program that was set to expire on Friday.

The disaster aid bill would assist victims of disasters across the country over the last two years, from hurricanes in the Southeast to Midwestern flooding and California wildfires. It has funds to repair highways and other infrastructure, including some military bases, as well as aid to help farmers cover crop losses.

Lawmakers and the White House haggled over it for months, with Trump first refusing any more aid to help the island territory of Puerto Rico recover from a 2017 hurricane, and then requesting $4.5 billion to cope with a migrant surge at the southern border. The president ultimately backed away from both demands and said he would seek the border money later.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted the bill will pass overwhelmingly when the full House returns next week.

Earlier this week Republican Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky objected to passage, saying there was no plan to pay for the disaster relief. Congress regularly approves disaster aid bills without any cuts to other programs. Representative Chip Roy of Texas objected to passing the bill on Friday.

Some Republicans as well as Democrats from the states waiting for the relief have criticized the lawmakers for objecting, saying they are delaying needed assistance.

Additional reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Eric Beech, Richard Chang and Cynthia Osterman