House GOP Set to Release Disaster-Relief Bill

By Kristina Peterson Features Dow Jones Newswires

House Republicans on Monday night were expected to release legislation that would authorize $81 billion in disaster aid for victims of recent storms, a move that was already drawing backlash from conservatives about its impact on the federal deficit.

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House Republicans from Texas and Florida praised the aid package, nearly double the $44 billion the White House had requested last month to help states recover this year's devastating storms. House GOP lawmakers from the two state delegations met Monday afternoon to discuss the deal, which many had said was needed before they would support spending bills that must pass this week to avoid a government shutdown. The government's current funding expires at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 23.

House Homeland Security Chairman Michael McCaul (R., Texas) called the package a "very significant increase" over the White House's request and said it could mitigate the concerns of many lawmakers from Texas and Florida.

"It could actually help move" the spending bill, he said.

But just as GOP leaders eased the worries of some lawmakers, they raised new ones for others.

Conservatives objected that GOP leaders didn't trim the federal budget elsewhere, so that passage of the disaster-aid deal would add $81 billion to the deficit. Meanwhile, Republicans expect to pass a tax overhaul bill this week that will add $1.5 trillion to the deficit over 10 years, although GOP lawmakers have said they expect the economic growth it produces will generate more revenue.

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Many Republicans have traditionally said that emergency spending to help disaster victims should be offset with other budget cuts. Conservatives said that if a disaster-aid package is added to a short-term spending bill this week, they could oppose it.

"It would be very difficult to vote that," said Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, a group of roughly three dozen of the House's most conservatives. "$81 billion without offsets would be difficult to support."

Republicans said they were still discussing whether the disaster-aid deal would be voted on as a stand-alone bill in the House or combined with a stopgap spending bill. It wasn't yet clear Monday evening how the $81 billion in disaster funds would be apportioned.

It also wasn't known how the deal would be viewed by Senate Democrats, whose votes will be needed to pass any spending bills in the Senate. Spending bills require 60 votes to clear procedural hurdles in the Senate, where Republicans hold 52 seats.

Democrats have said any disaster-aid deal must include enough funding for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and aid for victims of the recent wildfires.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said on the Senate floor Monday that he was looking for a deal that "that treats equitably California, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as Texas and Florida."

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 18, 2017 20:32 ET (01:32 GMT)