November 1, 2017 / 10:03 PM / a year ago

Next U.S. disaster aid approval likely in December: Senator Cornyn

Workers of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority (PREPA) repair part of the electrical grid after Hurricane Maria hit the area in September, in Manati, Puerto Rico October 30, 2017. REUTERS/Alvin Baez

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The next round of aid to help rebuild Puerto Rico and U.S. states after destructive hurricanes and wildfires is unlikely to be considered by Congress until it takes up a catch-all spending bill that faces a Dec. 8 deadline for passage, the No. 2 Senate Republican said on Wednesday.

John Cornyn said a crush of other matters would take up time, so “we probably won’t get to that” (disaster aid) until consideration of a massive bill to fund federal agencies through next Sept. 30.

The Trump administration has said it will submit to Congress a third round of disaster aid in mid-November that could total tens of billions of dollars. Congress already has provided over $51 billion

Currently, the Republican-controlled Congress is mainly focused on passing a major tax reform bill by year’s end.

The disaster aid would help recovery efforts in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in August and September.

Six weeks after Maria tore through Puerto Rico, the island is struggling to pick up the pieces, and about two-thirds of its residents remain without power.

The U.S. territory declared bankruptcy earlier this year and the storm has plunged its economy into deeper uncertainty.

The government-wide spending bill could also become a magnet for measures that Democrats, who are in the minority in Congress, want to attach. Those could include a bipartisan plan to temporarily bolster the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as “Obamacare.”

Democrats also are hinting that the end-of-year measure could be an opportunity to force passage of legislation protecting from deportation young “Dreamers,” people brought illegally to the United States as children.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Peter Cooney

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