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GOP disaster relief bill fails to advance in Senate

The proposal would have provided millions of dollars less than Democrats have said is needed to assist continued storm recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.
Puerto Rico Marks Holiday Season Amidst Slow Hurricane Recovery
Contractors apply a FEMA tarp to a home damaged by Hurricane Maria and without electricity on Dec. 20, 2017, in Morovis, Puerto Rico.Mario Tama / Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — A GOP-sponsored bill to provide disaster relief funding to states affected by hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters failed to secure the necessary votes Monday to advance to a final floor vote.

The measure failed in a 44-49 vote, short of the 60 needed in order to proceed to final consideration. The proposal would have provided millions of dollars less than Democrats have said is needed to assist continued storm recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. The GOP alternative would have also included extra money for states hit by recent flooding in the Midwest, including Iowa.

After the vote, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., forced a vote on the House-passed bill to show that it also didn't have enough support to advance. That bill failed to proceed in a 46-48 vote.

“Democrats should stop fighting Sen. David Perdue's disaster relief bill. They are blocking funding and relief for our great farmers and rural America!” President Trump tweeted Monday, ahead of the Senate vote's first vote on the GOP bill.

Perdue, a Georgia Republican, introduced the $13 billion aid package in late February, which has one Democratic co-sponsor: Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, and would provide $600 million for Puerto Rico’s food stamp program. Last week, Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., offered an amendment to the bill that added the funding for flooding in the Midwest.

Last week, Trump told Senate Republicans at a closed-door lunch on Capitol Hill that he believes Puerto Rico should not receive as much money as the House provided in its version of the disaster relief bill, which the lower chamber passed in a 237-187 vote in January. That bill would provide $14.2 billion in emergency aid, including $703 million for Medicaid and nutrition assistance to Puerto Rico.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, warned Democrats on the Senate floor Monday not to block the GOP measure if they want to win over Iowa's voters as they gear up for the state's presidential caucuses.

“To my colleagues across the aisle who have been spending a lot of time in Iowa lately as presidential candidates, if you vote against moving forward with the Shelby amendment, how are you going to look Iowans in the eye and justify a vote against moving this disaster relief bill ahead?” Grassley said.

Senate Democrats, for their part, have offered three options: pass the House-passed bill, pass a bill that could allow for bicameral negotiations or pass an amendment to the GOP bill that would wrap in funding for Puerto Rico.

"The House bill has nothing for the Midwest flooding. So it’s a non-starter," McConnell said on the Senate floor. "For that reason, and also because the White House has indicated the president would not support that legislation because of policy decisions made by House Democrats."

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote in an op-ed published Monday in the New York Daily News that Senate Republicans were not taking action on the House-passed bill because the president believed it contained too much assistance for Puerto Rico.

“He claims that Puerto Rico is getting $91 billion in disaster relief, but no one can discern where he’s getting that figure, which is many times higher than the actual number,” Schumer wrote. “Before Monday’s votes on this disaster package, Senate Republicans must remember that — just as we leave no soldier behind on the battlefield — we help our fellow Americans when there’s a disaster, wherever the disaster strikes. We do not abandon them. Period.”