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Disaster relief blocked again in Congress

Posted: 5:03 PM, May 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-28 21:15:59Z

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Yet another attempt to pass long-stalled federal disaster relief funding that would assist Florida’s hurricane-ravaged Panhandle has been blocked in Congress.

The latest move came after a group of Panhandle residents targeted --- through a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper --- a Texas Republican who initially blocked the bill on Friday.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., further delayed the $19.1 billion disaster package Tuesday by objecting when Georgia Democratic Rep. Sanford Bishop urged the House in a brief pro forma session to move forward with the negotiated funding, which passed the Senate in an 85-8 vote last week.

Through a process known as unanimous consent, the disaster-relief bill could have passed the House without most members present. Massie argued the House should wait until next week, when the full body is available to vote after returning from a holiday recess.

“If the speaker of this House felt that this was must-pass legislation, the speaker of this House should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for 10 days,” Massie said.

Along with providing aid to areas of Northwest Florida that sustained damage in October’s Hurricane Michael, the package would address flooding and wildfires in other parts of the country.

Bishop’s district covers Southwest Georgia, which also sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Michael.

U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., unsuccessfully urged Republicans to not object to the proposal Tuesday. Lawmakers have spent months grappling with the issue.

“Millions of people are at risk,” Hoyer said. “And the sooner that we pass this bill, which we passed in January to the Senate, which we passed some three or four weeks ago, needs to be passed as soon as possible for the welfare of our people, people of this country who have been attacked by natural disasters.”

After the vote, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., called Massie’s action “pathetic” and “another example of politicians putting their own self-interest ahead of the national interest.”

Massie responded to outrage on social media by tweeting: “Legislative malpractice is all-too-common here in The Swamp.”

The House will hold another pro forma session Thursday, but it appears unlikely that Republicans will allow the funding to advance without a full vote.

U.S. Rep. Chip Roy, R-Tex., blocked the bill Friday, in part because he wanted a vote by the full House. Roy also raised concerns that a funding source isn’t identified to offset an increase in the national debt and that the bill does not include $4.5 billion sought by the White House to address the “national emergency and humanitarian crisis” at the Southern border.

“The American people deserve to know how their reps vote,” Roy tweeted Tuesday. “We cannot continue to spend billions of dollars we don't have, particularly without the People's House voting.”

Roy’s move drew objections from Democrats and several Republicans.

A group of businesspeople from the Panhandle, including Jay Trumbull Sr., father of state Rep. Jay Trumbull, R-Panama City, purchased a full-page ad in Tuesday’s edition of the Austin American-Statesman that contrasted Roy’s action with Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis traveling to Texas in 2017 after Hurricane Harvey.

“When Texas was hit by Hurricane Harvey, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis and a group of friends went to Beaumont, Texas, to help,” the ad said. “He served the Texans with his own time and money. After Hurricane Michael, Chip Roy served himself with a political stunt that prevented relief to the suffering victims in Florida.”

The ad, which asked people to call Roy, also featured photos of Patronis and his friends preparing food for a large group and a shot of Roy by himself at his desk with a sandwich from Chick-fil-A.

Patronis, a Panama City Republican, also blasted Roy.

“Why is @chiproytx only serving himself???,” Patronis tweeted while on a trip to Israel. “The Panhandle needs help NOW --- it's been 230 days since Hurricane Michael made landfall and Roy has DELAYED a relief package for those who DESPERATELY need it!”

The Democrat-led House this month approved a $19 billion disaster-aid package, despite opposition from President Donald Trump over additional funding Democrats want for Puerto Rico, which continues to recover from Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The House and Senate then negotiated the current package, which includes $900 million in assistance for Puerto Rico and $1.2 billion to help rebuild Northwest Florida’s severely damaged Tyndall Air Force Base. If approved by the House, the package would then go to Trump.