House to include $81B disaster aid package in government funding bill

House to include $81B disaster aid package in government funding bill
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House Republican leaders are preparing to attach an $81 billion disaster aid package to a stopgap spending bill as part of their strategy to avoid a government shutdown, GOP lawmakers said Tuesday.

The addition of disaster aid to the short-term spending bill is the first of what could be multiple extraneous measures to the last legislative train leaving the station before the holidays.

Current government funding runs out after Friday. But the Senate is likely to make changes to the short-term spending bill that the House is expected to pass on Wednesday, including a measure to prop up the ObamaCare insurance markets.

Sen. John CornynJohn CornynImpeachment hearings don't move needle with Senate GOP GOP divided over impeachment trial strategy GOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial MORE (R-Texas), whose state was hit by Hurricane Harvey, also said more disaster relief money could be added to the funding bill once it reaches the Senate.

Members of the Texas and Florida delegation have made clear they would oppose a stopgap spending bill if they don't secure emergency aid for their constituents before leaving town.

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The short-term spending bill, expected to hit the House floor on Wednesday, would fund defense programs through September but all other agencies until Jan. 19.

But some conservatives said they have concerns with attaching the massive disaster aid package to the spending bill because the emergency aid is not offset.

Congress has already approved more than $50 billion in disaster aid since September to help areas affected by hurricanes and wildfires. If the latest $81 billion package is enacted, it would bring the total amount spent on helping people affected by natural disasters to more than $130 billion this year.

The latest installment of federal assistance for communities ravaged by hurricanes and wildfires is nearly double the $44 billion the Trump administration requested last month to address the natural disasters.

“I’ve had a problem with that from the beginning. ... We’re processing still and not saying whether we’re going to support or not,” said Rep. Mark WalkerBradley (Mark) Mark WalkerNorth Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps Intercollegiate athletics just got a two-minute warning North Carolina ruling could cost GOP House seats MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the Republican Study Committee. “We still believe it should be offset. I don’t know if I can vote for it at this point.”

But Rep. Mark MeadowsMark Randall MeadowsMichelle Obama presents Lin-Manuel Miranda with National Portrait Award Sondland testimony looms over impeachment hearings this week Democrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing MORE (R-N.C.), chairman of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, said they are not whipping against the emergency aid at this point, leaving the door open to supporting the relief effort. He also said they may be willing to “go along” with the supplement request if they get long-term reforms for a foreign surveillance program that is set to expire at the end of this month.

Unlike the disaster aid, lawmakers said Tuesday that the renewal of the expiring surveillance program will be considered as a separate measure from the spending bill.

“We’re trying to make an informed decision on: do we support [disaster aid], do we not,” Meadows said. “Ultimately, we have to see the needs [of the] people in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Louisiana, and that’s not lost on me."

“And yet, at the same time, we want to make sure that we’re fiscally responsible,” he added.

The expected addition by the Senate of a bipartisan proposal authored by Sens. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Pelosi aide hopeful White House will support drug-pricing bill despite criticism Overnight Energy: BLM staff face choice of relocation or resignation as agency moves | Trump says he's 'very much into climate' | EPA rule would expand limits on scientific studies MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayHillicon Valley: Commerce extends Huawei waiver | Senate Dems unveil privacy bill priorities | House funding measure extends surveillance program | Trump to tour Apple factory | GOP bill would restrict US data going to China Senate Democrats unveil priorities for federal privacy bill Senators press FDA tobacco chief on status of vaping ban MORE (D-Wash.) to ensure cost-sharing reduction payments to health insurers is likely to be more of a headache for House GOP leaders than disaster aid. The payments, which the Trump administration ended earlier this year, help offset the cost of insurance for low-income consumers.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsFeehery: Pivoting to infrastructure could help heal post-impeachment wounds Progressive group to spend as much as M to turn out young voters Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families MORE (R-Maine) extracted a pledge from Senate GOP leaders to attach the Alexander-Murray measure to a spending bill in exchange for her support on the tax overhaul, which repeals ObamaCare’s individual mandate requiring that people buy insurance or pay a penalty.

But House Republicans made clear they won’t support propping up a health-care law that they failed to repeal this year.

“She may have gotten that assurance from the leadership in the Senate. She did not get that assurance from anybody in the House,” Rep. Bradley ByrneBradley Roberts ByrneSessions vows to 'work for' Trump endorsement Trump attends football game with Jeff Sessions' Alabama Senate race opponent Bradley Byrne The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race MORE (R-Ala.) said of Collins.

Conservatives are also concerned about ensuring that the insurance payments make clear that federal funding can’t be used for abortions.

“It makes no sense to offer such bailouts. Obviously, the Senate is going to play hardball. We’ve got to be willing to do the same,” Walker said. “You have a lot of the members obviously concerned without the Hyde language, not just the fiscal side of it, but those who have Hyde social positions as well.”

Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeNew hemp trade group presses lawmakers on immigration reform, regs Bottom Line Juan Williams: Republicans flee Trump MORE (R-Okla.), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee, nonetheless expressed confidence that lawmakers would find a way to avert a Christmastime shutdown, especially right after achieving their goal of tax reform.

“If they don’t accept what we send over, I don’t know why we would be obligated to automatically accept what they send back,” Cole said of negotiations between the House and Senate. “And then you just bargain, come to an agreement, keep the government running.”

Meadows suggested that the House could end up stripping out the Senate-added ObamaCare fixes and “ping pong it back to them.”

But “getting beyond three ping pongs is hard,” he cautioned.

-Jordain Carney contributed