The Senate this week is expected to take yet another vote on a contentious disaster aid package that lawmakers have been debating since December. While things had been looking more promising, the ongoing back-and-forth has raised questions about whether Congress can actually get something done for the millions of Americans waiting on much-needed relief.
Recent events suggested that lawmakers were finally making progress: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had committed to holding a vote on an aid package before Congress leaves town for Memorial Day, and senators appear to have worked through a few of the key sticking points.
“We’re going to get there this week,” McConnell told Politico on Monday.
An impasse over certain aspects of the multi-billion dollar aid package on Wednesday threw the likelihood of this outcome into doubt, however.
Much of the conflict was due to a $4.5 billion funding request the White House had made for additional aid along the southern border: While Democratic lawmakers agreed to $3.3 billion in funding for humanitarian aid, there were still outstanding questions about an additional $1.1 billion that would be allocated to other needs such as detention beds, according to The Hill. Lawmakers had seemingly addressed the other hurdle to a disaster aid deal — relief for Puerto Rico — earlier this week.
Throughout the disaster aid negotiations, the wild card has continued to be Trump.
Although Republicans and Democrats appear to have found consensus on Puerto Rico, Senate Appropriations Chair Richard Shelby signaled earlier this week that he still wasn’t sure if Trump would sign a package that included aid beyond $600 million in funding for food stamps. (Trump has falsely argued that the US territory was misusing funds and repeatedly cited this rationale as his reasoning for blocking these resources.)
Trump’s fixation on depriving Puerto Rico of additional support has already been responsible for depriving millions recovering from floods in the Midwest and hurricanes in the South from much-needed aid as well. The additional money for border aid is something the White House requested in May, and now that it’s being considered as part of the same appropriations package as disaster relief, it’s also causing delays.
A vote that could take place as soon as Thursday could show whether conflict over these two issues have finally been resolved — or whether it’s set to drag on even longer.
The fallout of this delay is staggering
It’s now been more than a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, seven months after Hurricane Michael hit Florida, and two months since flooding destroyed towns in Iowa and Missouri.
While lawmakers — and Trump — have been finagling over what an appropriations package should look like, millions of people in these regions are waiting on aid. As Vox’s Tara Golshan reported, these disasters have affected Americans nationwide, and Congress is sitting on billions of dollars in money that’s needed to help rebuild housing, improve infrastructure resiliency, and provide nutritional assistance:
At this point, the need for aid touches every part of the country — blue states and red states. A mid-March “bomb cyclone” has caused nearly $1.5 billion in damage in Nebraska alone. Farmers along the Missouri River in Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa are still trying to see how they can salvage their land. Iowa is estimating around a $214 million loss. California is still recovering from wildfires. And in the South, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and late freezes have all taken a toll on the agricultural industry and surrounding businesses.
Congressional approval of disaster aid, while part of a system desperately in need of reform, has not historically been such a fraught political issue — though it increasingly seems like it will be moving forward.
As a result of this fight, people’s efforts to rebuild are left hanging in the balance while the partisan squabbles continue.