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 CornynKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle GOP mulls having outside counsel question Kavanaugh, Ford 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 WalkerOn The Money: Midterms to shake up House finance panel | Chamber chief says US not in trade war | Mulvaney moving CFPB unit out of DC | Conservatives frustrated over big spending bills Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Trump's Puerto Rico tweets spark backlash 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 MeadowsRepublicans threaten to subpoena Nellie Ohr Conservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Graham to renew call for second special counsel 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 AlexanderOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — Kavanaugh confirmation in sudden turmoil Cruz gets help from Senate GOP in face of serious challenge from O’Rourke MORE (R-Tenn.) and Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayOvernight Health Care: HHS diverts funds to pay for detaining migrant children | Health officials defend transfers | Lawmakers consider easing drug company costs in opioids deal Trump health official defends funding shifts to pay for detained migrant children Judiciary Democrat calls for additional witnesses to testify on Kavanaugh 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 CollinsGrassley panel scraps Kavanaugh hearing, warns committee will vote without deal Collins 'appalled' by Trump tweet about Kavanaugh accuser Poll: More voters oppose Kavanaugh’s nomination than support it 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 ByrneFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus House votes to overhaul fishery management law The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Expensive and brutal: Inside the Supreme Court fight ahead 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 ColeConservatives left frustrated as Congress passes big spending bills Overnight Health Care: House GOP blocks Trump-backed drug pricing provision | Maryland sues to protect ObamaCare | Insurers offer help to hurricane-impacted areas House GOP blocks Trump-supported drug pricing provision from spending bill 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