WASHINGTON — Florida lawmakers expressed outrage that key federal disaster aid package needed to help Hurricane Michael victims was held up in the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday by a single vote.
The bipartisan $19.1 billion disaster aid bill had already passed the U.S. Senate, and the House held a voice vote to get it to the finish line. That’s when Texas Republican U.S. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) voted no, objecting to the House’s effort to pass it via “unanimous consent,” which would have allowed it to clear the chamber even though most lawmakers have left town for the Memorial Day recess.
Roy argued that the massive spending package should have been considered more carefully before passage, and he also sought $4.4 billion for beefed up security along the U.S.- Mexico border, an amount President Trump has pushed for.
“It is ridiculous that one House Republican chose to flip-flop at the ninth hour on the emergency bipartisan disaster relief bill after both Chambers came to an agreement earlier this week,” said U.S. Rep. Al Lawson, a Democrat who represents a North Florida district stretching from Tallahassee to Jacksonville. “North Florida’s families are suffering and in desperate need of funding as they work to recover from the damage caused by Hurricane Michael. The decision to continuously block emergency aid to Americans who are trying to rebuild their lives across the nation is selfish and despicable.”
“We are days away from Florida’s 2019 Hurricane season, and our families cannot withstand another beating without this much-needed aid.”
The disaster aid package could pass the House as early as Tuesday, during another “pro forma” session without the full chamber in attendance, the Washington Post reported. But it’s unclear whether Roy will object again. The full House is scheduled to reconvene in Washington on June 3.
U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, a Democrat who represents the Miami area, wrote on Twitter: “Today I asked for unanimous consent to pass a bipartisan bill to help people hurt by natural disasters, which the Senate passed last night. It’s irresponsible that Republicans would object and make these Americans wait longer to receive the help they desperately need.”
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also a Democrat representing South Florida, called the aid bill “necessary and urgent.” She added, “I am stunned and disappointed a member of the House chose to delay this critical aid for communities across the U.S.”
In the Senate, the aid package passed overwhelmingly with only eight Republicans voting against it.
Democrat Gwen Graham, who represented parts of the Panhandle while serving in Congress, is co-chair of a bipartisan private relief effort called Rebuild 850, (850 is a telephone area code) along with former Republican Florida House speakers Allan Bense and Will Weatherford.
She rejected the idea that Rep. Roy acted alone to block the disaster aid package.
“As a former member of Congress, I know how this works,” she tweeted. “This was not the action of a ‘lone’ GOP member of Congress. Congressman Roy is representing the House Republicans who want to play politics with the lives of Hurricane #Michael survivors. Appalling.”