This week: House moves to help Puerto Rico
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The House will consider a disaster aid package in the coming days after weeks of calls to boost federal help for Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Formal legislation has yet to be unveiled, but the bill is expected to adhere to the Trump administration’s request for $29 billion to assist communities affected by recent hurricanes and wildfires.

The request includes $12.8 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $16 billion for debt relief for the federal flood insurance program. It also asks for another $576.5 million for wildfire recovery.


Three major hurricanes — Harvey, Irma and Maria — caused major damage in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands starting in late August.

Residents of Puerto Rico are still facing widespread power outages and food and water shortages from Maria, which hit the island last month.

This week’s House vote will be the second round of supplemental appropriations Congress has approved to help victims of recent disasters — and likely won’t be the last.

“I do not believe this will be the last of the supplementals, based on the damage that has been done from the numerous hurricanes,” said House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).

Congress also enacted tax relief measures for hurricane victims late last month. The measures allow victims to take money out of their retirement accounts without paying early-withdrawal penalties and qualify for a tax credit for wages paid by an employer affected by a storm.

The tax relief for people impacted by hurricanes was part of a package that also extended certain expiring health programs and reauthorized the Federal Aviation Administration for six months. Democrats objected to the package, despite supporting many of the individual components, because they felt too many extraneous provisions were added without their input.

McCarthy indicated that the latest disaster relief package won’t have added policies attached.

“I don't intend on seeing other things with it,” McCarthy said when asked by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) if the measure would include “extraneous matters that might be controversial.”

Congress approved a more than $15 billion disaster relief bill in early September after Hurricane Harvey that also included a three-month extension of government funding and a debt limit hike. Passage of the latest additional disaster relief request will bring the total for disaster aid to more than $44 billion.

The Senate is out this week for the Columbus Day holiday, meaning the upper chamber won’t consider the disaster relief until next week at the earliest.

Gun reform

Support is growing among rank-and-file Republicans to ban a device used by the Las Vegas gunman to make semi-automatic weapons fire shots more rapidly.

GOP leaders initially made clear in the days immediately following the mass shooting in Las Vegas last week that they had no plans to consider gun control measures. But they began indicating support for prohibiting the device known as a “bump stock” after learning about its existence once authorities said the gunman had 12 of them attached to rifles in his hotel room.

The Las Vegas shooting was the deadliest in modern U.S. history, with nearly 60 deaths and more than 500 wounded.

Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.), a centrist facing a tough reelection in 2018, plans to file bipartisan legislation with Rep. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) to ban bump stocks that could be unveiled as soon as this week.

They want colleagues to cosponsor the bill “Noah’s Ark style”: each has to sign on with a member of the other party.

“For the first time in decades, there is growing bipartisan consensus for firearm reform, a polarizing issue that has deeply divided Republicans and Democrats,” Curbelo said in a statement. “By banning devices that blatantly circumvent already existing law, we can show that Congress is capable of working constructively to make Americans safer.”

Democrats led by Reps. David CicillineDavid CicillineLobbying world Progressive fighting turns personal on internal call over antitrust bills Top Democrat leads bipartisan trip to Middle East MORE (D-R.I.) and Dina Titus (D-Nev.), who represents Las Vegas, already introduced a bill last week to prohibit the devices.

Republicans have indicated support for banning bump stocks because the devices effectively circumvent existing law, which bans the purchase of automatic weapons manufactured after 1986.

Even the National Rifle Association gave public support for additional regulations on bump stocks. But it stopped short of endorsing legislation for Congress to consider.

It’s unclear whether Congress will take action or if GOP leaders will defer to the Trump administration to issue new regulations.

“We need to look at how we can tighten up the compliance with this law, so that they are — so that fully automatic weapons are banned,” Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanTrump clash ahead: Ron DeSantis positions himself as GOP's future in a direct-mail piece Cutting critical family support won't solve the labor crisis Juan Williams: Trump's GOP descends into farce MORE (R-Wis.) said at a news conference last week. “There's a big regulatory question, and then we just have to do more research to find out what's the best way to make sure that the spirit of law is upheld.”

Whistleblower protections, defense policy

The House is slated to consider a bill this week to enhance penalties for supervisors who retaliate against federal whistleblowers and ensure that workers are aware of whistleblower protections.

The bill is named after Chris Kirkpatrick, a psychologist who committed suicide after he was fired from a Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. He was dismissed after raising concerns about patients’ medications.

Passage in the House will send the bill to President Trump’s desk. The Senate previously passed the bill in May.

In addition, the House is expected to vote on a motion to go to conference on the annual defense policy bill.

The House and Senate each passed their versions of the National Defense Authorization Act in July and September, respectively, and will need to iron out differences before enacting a final compromise by the end of the year.

The House version calls for creating a new military branch dedicated to space, called the Space Corps, which is not in the Senate bill.

Both chambers will also have to reconcile the different spending levels: the House’s bill provides $632 billion in base spending and $65 billion in war funding, compared to the Senate’s $640 billion in base spending and $60 billion in war funds.