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President Donald Trump’s transmission of a new $44 billion disaster aid package to Capitol Hill has set in motion a new fight over proposed domestic program spending cuts the White House says are needed to pay for the assistance.
Trump’s latest supplemental legislation, the third sent since the year’s series of hurricanes and wildfires, would bring the total federal price tag for the disasters so far to just under $100 billion. But unlike the previous packages, the administration now is proposing to offset the new installment with offsets drawn from accounts across the government.
A new slug of federal money is needed to replenish Federal Emergency Management Agency funds and other parts of the government that helped Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands recover from hurricanes. Other funds are proposed to help western states recover from wildfires. Lawmakers said their goal is to approve the next tranche of federal aid before this year’s congressional session ends in December.
Democrats said they are gearing up for a battle over the offsets when Congress returns from its 10-day Thanksgiving break Nov. 27. House Appropriations Committee ranking member Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) said the plan would only make it more difficult to get a new disaster package through quickly.
"[J]ust one day after pushing the House to pass a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that would add $1.5 trillion to the debt, it is galling that the administration is requesting offsets in exchange for helping Americans rebuild their lives,” Lowey said.
The disaster aid request resembles previous ones except for the demand for offsets that would cut items including:
Other details of the White House plan also are drawing criticism.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) called the aid request “wholly inadequate” on Twitter. His comments were echoed by Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), a “cardinal” (subcommittee chairman) on the House Appropriations Committee.
“Make no mistake—the [Office of Management and Budget] request is not a Hurricane Harvey emergency supplemental,” Culberson said. “Our community is still trying to recover, and this request is a nightmare for those who are trying to rebuild their lives.”
Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the senior Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, said the size of the package alone “is wholly inadequate and downright insulting.” In particular, he said there are inadequate resources for Puerto Rico.
“I’ve gotten requests for more than $180 billion in federal assistance,” Leahy said. “This request doesn’t even come close to meeting those needs.”
Amid criticisms, however, Trump spokesman Sarah Sanders said the White House is continuing to examine Puerto Rico’s needs.
"[T]he request that went in today, the roughly $44 billion, primarily addresses Texas and Florida. Those storms took place ahead of Puerto Rico and the assessment for Puerto Rico hasn’t been completed yet. Once that’s done, we fully anticipate that there will be an additional request at that time,” Sanders said.
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