Congress splits town with no deal on disaster aid
Congress on Thursday officially broke for a two-week recess without approving disaster aid money that lawmakers, notably from the midwest and southeast, say is absolutely vital to help their regions recover from recent tornadoes, flooding, and other extreme weather events.
Democrats and Republicans have traded various offers in recent days and weeks, but the negotiations have gotten ensnared in a political dispute over how much money should be given to Puerto Rico to recover from hurricanes in 2017.
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby returned to the Capitol from a meeting at the White House with President Trump on Thursday to report there were no major breakthroughs and that staff-level talks would likely continue into the two-week Easter recess.
“We had a nice, pretty long meeting with the president and discussed some of our thoughts regarding trying to make some overtures to the Democrats,” said Mr. Shelby, Alabama Republican. “We’ll continue to work. The president listened.”
GOP Sens. Joni Ernst of Iowa and Rick Scott of Florida were also at the meeting.
Mr. Shelby said the president, who has complained recently that officials in Puerto Rico are wasting money, suggested “a few things,” but declined to go into further detail.
“We’re trying to reach a point where we can get it and not just be a” standoff, he said.
Shortly after Mr. Shelby got back the Senate adjourned, with only “pro forma” sessions where no business is conducted to be held in the coming weeks. The House had already adjourned Wednesday, with many Democrats currently in suburban Virginia for a three-day retreat.
Mr. Shelby had introduced a $13.45 billion package last month that included $600 million in nutrition assistance money for Puerto Rico - an amount Democrats said was insufficient.
The Senate filibustered Mr. Shelby’s plan earlier this month, then filibustered a $14.2 billion package that cleared the Democrat-led House earlier this year.
Senate Democrats later released a separate $16.7 billion package that included additional money for communities in the southeast and midwest, and House Democrats introduced a new $17.2 billion bill earlier this week.
“Senate Republicans have bent to the will of President Trump and torpedoed relief for all disasters because of the president’s bizarre vendetta against Puerto Rico,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, New York Democrat.
But Mr. Shelby has consistently likened the negotiations to a “three-legged stool,” meaning that lawmakers have to come up with something acceptable to the House, the GOP-led Senate, and the White House.
He said he hopes to be able to bring something to the floor shortly after lawmakers return.