Republican's stunt holds up flood relief funding (updated)

Iowans awaiting federal flood relief money will have to wait a little longer.

Congressional leaders thought they had a deal to approve $19.1 billion in disaster aid before the Memorial Day recess. The U.S. Senate passed the bill on May 23 by 85 votes to 8. (Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst both supported the measure and said they’d worked to secure “specific relief for farmers whose grain bins busted because of flooding.”) President Donald Trump was willing to sign the legislation. House passage seemed assured, so most representatives left town for the holiday weekend.

Then a first-term Republican from Texas used a procedural move to hold up the bill on May 24. While most of the blame lies with U.S. Representative Chip Roy and the GOP leaders who failed to dissuade him, top House Democrats should not have put themselves at the mercy of any member of the minority.

Most bills clear the House by receiving a majority of votes on the floor. But leaders planned to pass this bill quickly by unanimous consent–meaning any one legislator could block it. Jeff Stein and Mike DeBonis reported for the Washington Post,

Roy said he was objecting to the bill because it would add to the country’s debt, as well as because it left out $4.4 billion in additional spending for federal operations along the U.S.-Mexico border. […]

Following Roy’s objection, the House ended its session. The House is set to have another “pro forma” session — one with few lawmakers present — on Tuesday, at which time the chamber is expected to try again to pass the legislation by unanimous consent. […]

The full House is not due back in Washington until June 3. […]

Roy, when asked whether Trump or House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) had tried to dissuade him from objecting, said he did not want to discuss private conversations. […]

Democrats said they did not know before Friday morning of Roy’s plans. Roy said he called Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) on Friday morning to let him know his intentions.

Representative Abby Finkenauer (IA-01) released this statement on May 24:

“It is unconscionable to play politics with Americans’ lives. Neighbors throughout Iowa are hurting and still devastated by natural disasters and need assistance. Now isn’t the time for a publicity stunt. I was proud to preside over the initial passage of the Supplemental Appropriations Act in the House earlier this month, as Congresswoman Axne added billions to assist Iowans who have been impacted by flooding. Iowans aren’t asking for a handout – they just want a government that will have their backs. Our communities need this funding to recover and rebuild and Congressman Roy and U.S. House Republicans deliberately went out of their way to slow that support down.” […]

The bill is critical for Iowa communities recovering from flooding, including on the Mississippi River. It includes $3 billion in Agriculture Department funding to assist farmers with crop losses, in addition to $558 million for the Emergency Conservation Program and $600 million to assist with flood mitigation, long-term recovery, and infrastructure restoration. $1.65 billion would go to the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program to repair damaged roads.

Representative Dave Loebsack (IA-02) called Roy’s move “outrageous,” adding in a tweet, “One person in DC is playing politics and holding up the disaster relief that is badly needed by Iowans trying to recover from the floods. This bill must be passed.”

Representative Cindy Axne (IA-03) tweeted, “I am beyond fed up. This is wrong. This bill is about helping people – not about playing Washington politics. Congress needs to do its job and pass this bill. Iowans deserve better than this.” The previous day, Axne had hailed Senate approval of the disaster package and highlighted her role in crafting amendments. I enclose that statement in full below, along with official comments from Senators Ernst and Grassley.

I haven’t seen any public comment from Representative Steve King (IA-04). He was among 34 Republicans who supported an earlier disaster relief package. Senate GOP leaders refused to bring that bill to the floor. In a conference call with reporters on May 23, Ernst claimed that the House measure was “DOA” in the upper chamber because it had “partisan issues,” including (she said without specifying) “abortion language.” It seems unlikely that King–one of the most uncompromising abortion opponents in Congress–would vote for any such bill.

Some of Roy’s GOP colleagues are upset, so McCarthy will presumably lean on the freshman not to object when the House tries to move the legislation through unanimous consent on May 28. If he is stubborn like his former boss, Senator Ted Cruz, final passage may need to wait until June 3.

Roy’s stunt was idiotic and inexcusable. But the buck stops with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. While she obviously didn’t anticipate any objection, she should not have relied on the good faith of 197 House Republicans–even if she had assurances from the minority leader. Democrats should have been told to stay nearby in case their votes were needed on this critically important bill.

I hope Democratic leaders learn the right lesson from this debacle.

May 23 news release from Representative Cindy Axne’s office:

AXNE APPLAUDS SENATE PASSAGE OF BIPARTISAN DISASTER SUPPLEMENTAL
~ Senate passes disaster supplemental with Axne provisions to increase funding by almost a billion dollars for crucial programs Iowa needs to recover ~

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) praised Senate passage of the much-needed bipartisan disaster supplemental bill that will provide Iowa with crucial funding to rebuild and recover following devastating flooding that hit Southwest Iowa in March. The legislation now heads back to House for final passage before heading to the President’s desk. Rep. Axne has fought tirelessly to include Iowa and the Midwest in disaster funding since March.

Earlier this month, the House passed the emergency disaster supplemental bill with two Axne amendments that increased funding for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program and the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program.

The Senate-passed bill included the funding increases for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program and the Federal Highway Administration Emergency Relief Program. This bill builds on legislation that passed the House in January and failed to pass the Senate – with an additional $3 billion for Midwest flooding, thanks to the leadership of Rep. Axne.

“I’ve been down to flood zones multiple times to speak with families, business owners and farmers who have lost everything. Their resilience is inspiring but the damage is heartbreaking,” said Rep. Axne. “These communities need our help. I’m glad the Senate put politics aside and passed this crucial bill with funding for programs that Iowans need to rebuild and recover. It’s time to pass this bill in the House and send this legislation to the President’s desk immediately.”

Congresswoman Axne has worked tirelessly to ensure that Iowans receive the federal assistance they need following this devastating flood. In addition to fighting for Iowans in Washington, Rep. Axne even rolled up her sleeves and helped a family in Pacific Junction muck out their home.

A timeline of Congresswoman Axne’s work to protect Iowa is available below:

  • On March 22, Rep. Axne urged President Trump to support Governor Kim Reynolds’ request for a major disaster declaration. On March 23, President Trump issued a disaster declaration, ensuring the full availability of federal resources to support Iowa’s efforts to guarantee public safety and rapid recovery.
  • On March 26, Rep. Axne requested House and Senate appropriators increase funding for federal disaster aid to ensure that programs, which are vital to rebuilding Iowa communities, do not lapse or expire. Given the ongoing effects of climate change and severe weather that is affecting communities in Iowa and across the country, Rep. Axne urged House and Senate appropriators to provide sufficient funding to ensure Iowa’s rural communities receive the aid they need.
  • On March 28, Rep. Axne invited the Secretaries of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to join her on April 6th to tour the flood damage in Southwest Iowa. As the Secretaries of two vital agencies that handle disaster recovery, Rep. Axne believes it is critical for them to survey the damage in order to fully understand the scope of federal assistance needed to rebuild these rural communities.
  • On March 29, Rep. Axne sent a letter requesting USDA immediately authorize emergency relief programs to assist Iowa farmers impacted by the severe flood. President Trump’s disaster declaration allowed for the USDA to authorize specific recovery programs which were authorized in Nebraska, including Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program and the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), which are vital to helping Iowa farmers recover and rebuild.
  • On April 5, Rep. Axne urged House and Senate leadership to immediately pass a disaster relief bill that fully funds recovery programs for all affected areas, including Iowa. Rep. Axne expressed disappointment in the Senate for failing to pass a disaster supplemental funding bill and called on both chambers to immediately pass a bill to ensure Iowa communities receive the federal assistance they need to rebuild and recover.
  • On April 5, Rep. Axne requested funding for specific programs to be included in any new supplemental emergency disaster bill.
  • On April 8, Rep. Axne introduced legislation to ensure Iowa is included in any new emergency disaster supplemental funding legislation following the Senate’s failure to move forward a $13 billion appropriations bill last week. Specifically, the bill would ensure that the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) is amended to include Iowa flooding.
  • On April 10, Rep. Axne’s request for Iowa relief funding was successfully included in the new House appropriations emergency disaster supplemental bill which was introduced by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-NY). The new emergency appropriations bill includes an additional $3 billion to address urgent needs following flooding in the Midwest and tornadoes in the South. In addition to the $3 billion, the new bill also includes funding for specific recovery programs Rep. Axne requested in a letter to House appropriators last Friday.
  • On April 11, following Rep. Axne’s request, USDA authorized emergency relief programs in Iowa.
  • On April 23, Rep. Axne was appointed to sit on Governor Kim Reynolds’ Flood Advisory Board. Axne joined the board’s first meeting on April 24.
  • On May 10, the House passed the disaster supplemental bill that U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne (IA-03) successfully amended to increase funding for crucial programs vital to Iowa recovery efforts. Following the adoption of the Axne amendments, the House passed the robust emergency disaster supplemental bill to help disaster-stricken communities across the country. It builds on legislation that passed the House in January – with an additional $3 billion for Midwest flooding, thanks to the leadership of Rep. Axne.
  • May 23 news release from Senator Joni Ernst:

    Ernst Applauds Bipartisan Agreement on Disaster Package, Aid for Lost Stored Grain
    The disaster aid package includes a provision Senator Ernst championed to extend USDA relief to cover Iowa farmers who have lost stored grain in the flooding

    WASHINGTON—U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) released the following statement after passage of a bipartisan disaster aid package in the U.S. Senate:

    “This spring has brought devastation and difficult times for so many Iowans across our state. Our families, farmers, and small business owners have waited a long time for Congress to get its act together. But, at long last, Republicans and Democrats came together on a bipartisan disaster relief package that will deliver desperately-needed aid to folks across the country,” said Senator Joni Ernst. “I’m extremely pleased this bipartisan disaster aid package includes a provision to extend aid for Iowans who are facing losses from the destruction of their stored grain in the floods. As Iowans continue down the road to recovery, I stand ready to work across the aisle in providing help and assistance to those in need.”

    Background:
    Since April, Senator Ernst has been working to include a provision into a Senate disaster relief package that would extend federal aid from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to include crops that are already harvested and stored, such as grain. Currently, there are no federal disaster programs that cover the loss of grain that was being stored on farms. This measure, which was included in the final Senate relief package that passed today, would give the USDA the authority to cover the loss of on-farm stored grain.

    In the wake of the flooding, Senator Ernst has worked tirelessly to provide aid to Iowans in need. She helped introduce legislation, the Disaster Tax Relief Act of 2019, to allow individuals in disaster areas of Iowa to be eligible for a number of tax benefits. She also hosted and chaired a field hearing in Glenwood, Iowa to examine the Army Corps of Engineers’ response to the flooding. As a result, Senator Ernst sent a letter to the Corps describing the feedback and concerns she has heard from stakeholders about the Corps’ communications shortcomings during and after the floods. The letter specifically describes issues with communications between the Corps and local levee sponsors and those in harm’s way and urges the Corps to immediately address the problems.

    For Iowans impacted by floods, there are many resources available. For a list highlighting resources for Iowa families, businesses, and farmers, as well as information about contacting Senator Ernst’s office for assistance, click here.

    May 24 news release from Senator Chuck Grassley:

    Grassley Praises Passage of Disaster Aid Package to Help Iowa Flooding Recovery

    May 24, 2019
    WASHINGTON – Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) issued the following statement after the Senate voted to approve a package of disaster aid, which included Grassley’s amendment designed to provide relief to farmers that lost stored grain in recent floods.

    “It’s important that we approved this disaster package. It’s long-past due. Politics shouldn’t be played when Americans need help recovering from disasters. I secured specific relief for farmers whose grain bins busted because of flooding. This should help those affected, especially in Southwest Iowa, in the continued effort to rebuild and recover. This package is a good start for addressing Midwest flooding needs. I will continue to work with farmers, communities and the state on what further assistance will be needed.”

    More information about the disaster aid package passed in the Senate can be found HERE. Some of the provisions that will assist disaster-affected Iowans follows.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Secretary – Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) – $3,005,442,000
    For necessary expenses related to losses of crops (including milk, on-farm stored commodities, crops prevented from planting in 2019, and harvested adulterated wine grapes), trees, bushes, and vines.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture, Farm Service Agency (FSA) – Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) – $558,000,000
    For repairs to damaged farmland.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) – Emergency Watershed Protection Program – $435,000,000
    For rural watershed recovery.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture, Rural Development – Rural Community Facilities Program – $150,000,000
    For small rural communities impacted by natural disasters.

    Economic Development Assistance (EDA) Programs – $600,000,000
    To provide grants to communities directly impacted by disasters.

    Army Corps of Engineers, Operations and Maintenance (O&M) – Mississippi River and Tributaries – $575,000,000
    To address emergency situations at Corps projects and rehabilitate and repair damages to Corps projects caused by natural disasters.

    U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – Emergency Relief Program (ER) – $1,650,000,000
    For repair and reconstruction of federal-aid highways and roads which have suffered serious damages as a result of natural disasters.

    U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) – $2,431,000,000
    For disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, economic revitalization, and mitigation in the most impacted and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster in 2017, 2018, and 2019.

    UPDATE: GOP Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky objected to unanimous consent on May 28, again blocking the disaster aid bill.

    LATER UPDATE: First-term Republican John Rose of Tennessee objected to unanimous consent on May 30, calling the disaster aid bill “another act of irresponsible big government” in light of the $22 trillion national debt.

    FINAL UPDATE: The House finally approved this bill by 354 votes to 58 on June 3. All four representatives from Iowa voted yes. All of the no votes came from Republicans.

    Finkenauer’s office released the following statement:

    “This is a critical bill to help Iowa communities recover and rebuild, including on the Mississippi River” said Congresswoman Finkenauer. “Folks aren’t asking for a handout- they just want a government that will have their backs. Recent flooding throughout Iowa and across the Midwest has devastated communities that now desperately need help from the federal government.”

    Finkenauer presided over the House floor for the initial passage of the bill. After a delay, the bill then passed the Senate and was sent back to the House, where Republican members blocked the bill three times. Today, it was again brought before the House for final passage and passed.

    The bill is critical for Iowa communities recovering from flooding, including on the Mississippi River. It builds on legislation passed by the House in January 2019 and includes $3 billion in Agriculture Department funding to assist farmers with crop losses, in addition to $558 million for the Emergency Conservation Program and $600 million to assist with flood mitigation, long-term recovery, and infrastructure restoration. $1.65 billion would go to the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program to repair damaged roads.

    Loebsack’s office released the following statement:

    “While I am pleased this legislation was finally passed and is on its way to becoming law, the politics on display last week blocking this bill from being passed by unanimous consent was despicable. By opposing this bill, Republicans delayed Iowans whose homes, property and businesses were damaged by the floods from getting the relief they need to cleanup and begin to recover. Now that this legislation has passed, I look forward to the funds getting to where they are most needed and getting things cleaned up and on the road to full recovery.”

    Axne’s office released the timeline again showing her work on the bill. This part of the news release reacted to the June 3 final passage:

    “I’ve been down to flood zones multiple times to speak with families, business owners and farmers who have lost everything. Their resilience is inspiring but the damage is heartbreaking,” said Rep. Axne. “These communities need our help. I’m glad Congress put politics aside and passed this crucial bill with funding for programs that Iowans need to rebuild and recover.”

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