House advances $36.5 billion disaster funding without offsets

House advances $36.5 billion disaster funding without offsets
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The House Appropriations Committee late Tuesday night advanced a $36.5 billion supplemental funding bill for disaster relief, but did not include any spending offsets, a demand of some key Republicans.

“This is an incredibly frustrating place,” said Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C), the head of the conservative Republican Study Committee group. Walker had demanded spending cuts to offset the new disaster spending and said he was unsure if he would vote for the package.

The bill, which adheres the White House funding request, includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and $16 billion for debt relief for the National Flood Insurance Program.

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It also includes $576.5 million for wildfire efforts, even as flames continue to blaze in an increasingly damaging event in California. As of last Friday, before the fires spread dramatically, the California wildfires were estimated to have caused $2 billion in damage.

“This event may end up as one of the costliest wildfire events since our analysis began in 1980," said Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithPentagon audit to cost 7M in 2018 Overnight Energy: Regulators kill Perry plan to boost coal, nuclear | 2017 sets new record for disaster costs | Cliven Bundy walks free US sets new cost record for major disasters MORE, a researcher at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The package also will enable low-income Puerto Rico residents to access the Disaster Nutrition Assistance Program, a food aid program already available to other hurricane-affected states.

“These funds are vital right now, in the near term, to get the aid where it is needed most,” said Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney FrelinghuysenRodney Procter FrelinghuysenGOP angst over midterms grows House Democrats add seven candidates to 'Red-to-Blue' program Rep. Steve Womack said to have 'inside track' on key gavel MORE (R-N.J.).

Recovery in the hardest-hit areas would be ongoing and require further relief efforts, however, he added.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter circulated Wednesday, Walker asked that members be allowed to offer amendments to the bill that could, among other things, offset costs. Allowing such amendments could delay the bill’s passage.

In his letter, Walker quoted Vice President Pence’s stance in 2005, when he was a member of Congress, saying that natural disasters should not become debt disasters.

“When then-Congressman Pence made this speech on the House floor, the national debt was $7.9 trillion. Today the debt is $20.4 trillion,” Walker wrote.

A vote on the package is expected in the House on Thursday.

--This report was updated at 12:08 p.m.