House GOP to offer new disaster aid legislation as part of shutdown push

House GOP to offer new disaster aid legislation as part of shutdown push

House Republicans are preparing to unveil federal assistance for communities affected by recent natural disasters as soon as Friday, a critical part of ensuring passage of a bill to avert a government shutdown next week.

Two members of the House Appropriations Committee said Thursday that they expect the supplemental disaster aid funding to be completed by Friday. 

But a spokeswoman for the Appropriations Committee cautioned that decisions on timing and process have not been finalized yet. It’s possible the disaster aid could be attached to a short-term spending patch to keep the government open through Jan. 19, or it could be considered as a standalone measure.

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“They’ll do it in a way that they think is most helpful,” Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHere's what Congress is reading at the beach this summer Overnight Health Care: FDA adds new warning to J&J COVID-19 vaccine | WHO chief pushes back on Pfizer booster shot | Fauci defends Biden's support for recommending vaccines 'one on one' HHS spending bill advances without Hyde Amendment MORE (R-Okla.), a senior appropriator, said of GOP leaders’ strategy. “If it helps them get one of the larger packages through, [disaster aid] will be attached to one of the larger packages.”

If the supplemental funding request moves on its own, Cole predicted it would happen “early, mid-next week.”

“I think we won’t go home before it’s done,” he said. “We have a lot of members in the affected areas, and they need to go home with that problem solved.”

Lawmakers from disaster-ravaged states like Florida and Texas are holding firm that they won’t support a stopgap bill to keep the government funded past Dec. 22 unless they can secure help for their constituents. 

The disaster aid is expected to be higher than the $44 billion request made by the Trump administration, a number that lawmakers from disaster-affected states said is too low. 

The House GOP whip team took the temperature of lawmakers on the stopgap on Thursday morning before they left Washington for the week.

Rep. Tom RooneyThomas (Tom) Joseph RooneyRepublican rips GOP lawmakers for voting by proxy from CPAC House Dem calls on lawmakers to 'insulate' election process following Mueller report Hill-HarrisX poll: 76 percent oppose Trump pardoning former campaign aides MORE (R-Fla.), another member of the Appropriations Committee, said he and other Florida lawmakers told the whip team that he could not support the measure in its current form without the disaster aid. 

“I very rarely whip no. So that was a sort of like a new thing for me to do,” Rooney said.

Rooney and other Florida lawmakers have been pushing Congress for weeks to provide aid for their state’s citrus growers, whose crops were affected by Hurricane Irma.

“I represent, by and large, all of the orange juice that you drink,” Rooney said. “I can’t go back home to my district and look them in the eye and say that I didn’t try to do everything that I could do to make sure that they were taken care of by their government.”

The House Appropriations Committee unveiled a short-term spending bill late Wednesday that would avert a shutdown next week by funding the Defense Department through September 2018 and averting automatic sequestration cuts, while keeping other agencies on autopilot until Jan. 19.

The stopgap measure would also extend funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for five years. 

CHIP’s authorization expired at the end of September, and some states are starting to run out of money as lawmakers struggled to reach consensus on how to renew its funding.

The House passed CHIP funding last month along party lines, but it has stalled due to Democratic objections over its funding mechanisms.