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VOL. 43 | NO. 21 | Friday, May 24, 2019

Congress on cusp of delivering long-overdue disaster aid

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is rushing to wrap up a long-overdue $19 billion disaster aid package, but only after Democrats insisted on jettisoning President Donald Trump's $4.5 billion request to handle an unprecedented influx of migrants at the southern border.

The disaster package — which has more than doubled in size since the House first addressed it last year — would deliver aid for southern states suffering from last fall's hurricanes, Midwestern states deluged with springtime floods, and fire-ravaged rural California.

The Senate is set to vote Thursday afternoon. House lawmakers have already left for the Memorial Day recess but the chamber could attempt to pass the bill by voice vote on Friday, said a spokesman for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Several Senate Republicans said Trump has agreed to sign the bill even though funding to deal with the border crisis has been stripped out. Most of the funding would go to Trump strongholds like the Florida Panhandle, rural Georgia and North Carolina, and Iowa and Nebraska. Several military facilities would receive rebuilding funds, including Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska.

Such measures are invariably bipartisan, but this round has bogged down. After weeks of fighting, Democrats bested Trump and won further aid to Puerto Rico, slammed by back to back hurricanes in 2017. Trump has feuded with the island's Democratic officials and has repeatedly misstated that Puerto Rico has received much more aid than it has.

But talks this week over Trump's border request broke down over conditions Democrats wanted to place on funding to provide care and shelter for asylum-seeking Central American migrants arriving in record numbers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thursday's bill is most desperately sought by southern Republicans such as David Perdue of Georgia, seeking to deliver aid to farmers that lost billions of dollars when Hurricane Michael hit last fall during harvest season. Midwestern Republicans such as Joni Ernst of Iowa also pressed for the legislation.

Democrats filibustered the measure last month over Trump's refusal to sign off on funding to speed further disaster aid to Puerto Rico. But political pressure built and Trump agreed to sign the measure after a phone call with Perdue and Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala.

"The president said, 'OK,'" Shelby said.

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