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National Govt & Politics
Congress cuts deal on disaster relief as Trump relents on Puerto Rico aid
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Congress cuts deal on disaster relief as Trump relents on Puerto Rico aid

Congress cuts deal on disaster relief as Trump relents on Puerto Rico aid

Congress cuts deal on disaster relief as Trump relents on Puerto Rico aid

Ending months of wrangling over billions of dollars in aid for victims of hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, Congress struck a deal Thursday with President Donald Trump on a $19.1 billion aid package, which includes extra relief money for Puerto Rico, but not several billion for border security efforts sought by the President.

"We have been working on this package for several months, and I am pleased to say that help is finally on the way," said Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), as the Senate voted 85-8 to approve the plan, and send it back to the House for final action.

The plan includes $600 million in food aid for Puerto Rico, along with an additional $304 million in housing assistance for the island, as President Trump backed off his opposition to extra aid for the island.

"Puerto Rico has to be treated fairly - and they are," Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer told reporters.

The compromise plan also includes over $3 billion to repair military bases in Florida, North Carolina and Nebraska which were damaged by disasters, and over $3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to repair damaged waterways infrastructure.

The details of the final agreement were just slightly different from a disaster aid package approved earlier in May by the House - that $19.1 billion plan was opposed by President Trump and a majority of GOP lawmakers.

"Now, let's get this bill to the President's desk ASAP," said Rep. Cindy Axne (D-IA), whose home state has been hit hard by flooding.

Ironically, the vote took place in the Senate as a severe storm rolled through the city, setting off alarms inside the Capitol, as police told tourists, reporters, and staffers to shelter in place.

After the vote, Republicans praised the agreement, and the work of the President. 

“For Florida, this is a big day,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), as the bill included $1.2 billion to help rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base, which was leveled last year by Hurricane Michael.

“I just want to tell you how grateful I am to the President,” said Sen. David Perdue (R-GA), as Republicans repeatedly said Mr. Trump had 'broken the logjam' on the disaster bill.

Democrats saw it much differently, as they argued if the President had stayed out of the negotiations, the disaster aid would have been agreed to long ago.

“He's an erratic, helter-skelter, get nothing done President,” said Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer.   “If he stays out of it and lets us work together, we might get some things done.”

The eight Senators who voted against the bill were all Republicans - Blackburn (TN), Braun (IN), Crapo (ID), Lee (UT), McSally (AZ), Paul (KY), Risch (ID), and Romney (UT).

The bill would also extend the life of the National Flood Insurance Program, giving lawmakers several more months to consider reforms to the program, which has run up close to $40 billion in losses in the last 15 years.

The bill also has specific language to force the Trump Administration to release $16 billion in already approved funding for disasters, but which has been withheld by the White House for months - it includes $4 billion for Texas, and over $8 billion for Puerto Rico.

The compromise bill still needs a final vote in the House - that could take place either on Friday, or might have to wait until early June when lawmakers return from a Memorial Day break, as the House had already left town when the disaster deal was struck.

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Washington Insider

  • Even as President Donald Trump and top Republicans in Congress call on Democratic leaders in the U.S. House to allow a vote on a new trade deal with Mexico and Canada, the President's top trade negotiator told Senators on Tuesday that there's still no set date for when the agreement would be submitted to the Congress 'I believe we're on track, I believe we are making progress,' said United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Asked by a GOP Senator about discussions with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lighthizer gave no public hint about any problems. 'My hope is that over the course of the next several weeks, that we can make substantial progress,' Lighthizer added, as he said talks with Pelosi had been 'constructive.' Democrats have been pressing the Trump Administration over the enforcement of new labor reforms in Mexico, worried that the government won't adequately enforce the changes. Asked by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) when to expect a vote in Congress, Lighthizer gave no concrete date - as the trade agreement has not yet been formally submitted to the Congress. At a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, Lighthizer faced some verbal slings and arrows from both parties about the President's trade policies. 'I do not agree that tariffs should be the tool we use in every instance to achieve our trade policy goals,' said Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). 'China's market is now more closed off to American goods and American agriculture than before the trade war began,' said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), as he complained about the impact of the President's tweets on trade policy. For the most part, Lighthizer did not engage in pitched battles with Democrats over trade matters, repeatedly stressing common ground over trade disputes with China and final talks over the USMCA trade deal. As for China, Lighthizer made clear that President Trump isn't bluffing when it comes to additional tariffs on Chinese goods, acknowledging to Senators that the next round could have a bigger impact, to include items like laptop computers and cell phones. Lighthizer could have a somewhat more partisan reception on Wednesday, when he testifies on the same issues before the House Ways and Means Committee.