House Democrats Block Bill Tying Storm Aid to FAA Funding

House Democrats blocked a bill on Monday intended to give relief to taxpayers in areas damaged by recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, on the grounds that it doesn't match previous, similar disaster relief bills or address other concerns in Congress, such as the fate of young immigrants.

The hurricane tax relief was tacked on to a bill to extend funding for the Federal Aviation Administration, which expires on Saturday.

The bill, which needed two-thirds support to pass the House under a fast-track procedure, fell short, with 245 in favor and 171 against.

The bill was set to give U.S. taxpayers affected by this year's hurricanes bigger-than-usual deductions for their property losses and penalty-free access to retirement accounts. It doesn't extend the same-level of tax relief that was given to victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

The nonpartisan Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that the bill would result in $6.63 billion in tax relief in 2018.

"The weak tax provisions added to this package don't treat all families recovering from natural disasters the same," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said in a statement. "All Americans, no matter where they live, deserve the same relief and resources they need to rebuild their lives."

In her statement objecting to the legislation, Mrs. Pelosi also questioned why the Dream Act, which would help undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, could not also be added to the bill.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) accused Democrats of playing politics.

"It's shameful that politics will trump meaningful relief for families suffering from these devastating hurricanes. House Democrats are willing to shut down air-traffic control to make a political point," Mr. Ryan said in a statement.

Democrats also objected to the legislation, introduced by Texas Rep. Kevin Brady who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee, because it doesn't help people in Western states affected by recent wildfires, as well as those still recovering from past natural disasters, such as superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Should the FAA funding not be extended, thousands of FAA employees could be furloughed, and projects at airports will come to a halt. But even before the FAA bill became embroiled in debate over hurricane relief and other issues, passage of a longer-term package reauthorizing the agency already appeared unlikely. Partisan splits have kept the FAA measure from getting to the floor of either chamber as House and Senate leaders remain at odds over controversial proposals for FAA policy changes, such as shifting the nation's air-traffic control system to a nonprofit corporation.

With one week left before the FAA's current authorities are due to expire, the House is expected to abandon partisan provisions and pass a stripped-down, short-term FAA bill. Senate leaders, among other things, are expected to drop language intended to reduce minimum experience requirements for newly hired co-pilots. Down the road, both sides also will have to work out differences over regulating drones and protecting rights of airline passengers.

Stretching back 10 years, both FAA and industry officials have complained that nearly two dozen short-term, stopgap agency funding bills significantly hurt air-traffic control modernization plans and delayed other FAA priorities. At the start of the latest debate on an FAA bill months ago, House and Senate Republican leaders expressed confidence that pattern would be broken.

Kristina Peterson contributed to this article.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 25, 2017 19:52 ET (23:52 GMT)