May 10, 2019 / 5:04 PM / 2 months ago

Disaster bill clears U.S. House amid feud over Puerto Rico aid

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives approved a multibillion-dollar disaster relief bill on Friday, continuing a quarrel with President Donald Trump and other Republicans who oppose providing more aid to Puerto Rico.

Plastic tarps over damaged roofs are seen on houses a year after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico, September 18, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Senate Republicans made a new offer this week with more money for the island U.S. territory that was devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, but a Democratic aide said it fell short of what Democrats already have included in House bills and have been pushing for in talks. No details were provided.

So the Democratic-majority House voted 257-150 to pass a $17.2 billion measure to help Americans, including Puerto Ricans, rebound from a string of natural disasters from wildfires to floods and hurricanes - knowing that Republicans, who run the Senate, do not approve and Trump won’t sign it into law.

The bill included $600 million for a nutrition program for Puerto Rico, as well as other pots of money that the territory would be eligible for, such as water infrastructure grants.

Trump tweeted his opposition Thursday night. “House Republicans should not vote for the BAD DEMOCRAT Disaster Supplemental Bill which hurts our States, Farmers & Border Security,” he wrote on Twitter. “We want to do much better than this. All sides keep working and send a good BILL for immediate signing!” However, 34 House Republicans defied the president and voted with the Democrats for passage.

House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy opposed the House bill, but struck a note of optimism. He said that he had spoken with Trump, Senate leaders and House Democratic leaders, and “I believe we can solve this all by next week.”

McCarthy confirmed that Republicans had made an offer on disaster relief to senior Democrats on Thursday, but did not give details.

Disaster relief has been stalled since April amid disagreements over Puerto Rico. Trump, who accuses Puerto Rico of aid mismanagement, argues they should not get any more money.

The president this week repeated his claim that Puerto Rico had received $91 billion since the hurricane struck in 2017, an assertion that Democrats denounce as false.

Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Thursday that Puerto Rico has received a little over $11 billion. Trump appeared to be using a White House fact sheet number that estimated $91 billion could go to Puerto Rico over time.

The House passed a similar bill in January with $14.2 billion in aid, but it was not taken up by the Senate. Friday’s measure included $3 billion to address recent flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South.

Reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish

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