CEDAR RAPIDS — Just as GOP members of the Iowa congressional delegation were celebrating the expected passage of a disaster aid package that would help flooding victims in the southwest and southeast corners of the state, a Texas Republican threw a wrench Friday into the works.
“It’s long-past due,” U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley said after the Senate passed the $19.1 billion aid package, which included his amendment to provide relief to farmers who lost stored grain in the recent floods. “Politics shouldn’t be played when Americans need help recovering from disasters.”
And added U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst: “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.”
But when the measure, which includes disaster relief for other parts of the country including Puerto Rico, got to the House, a single Republican objected.
Freshman U.S. Rep. Chip Roy of Texas refused to go along with the compromise measure, saying it would add to the national debt and also left out $4.4 billion for federal operations at the U.S.-Mexico border.
When the House is in full session, the objection of a lone lawmaker would not prevent a measure from passing. But with the House only in a procedural session — with few members present before the long holiday weekend — passage would have required unanimous consent.
Although members can try again next week for unanimous consent, the House isn’t scheduled to be back in full session until June 3.
Iowa 1st District Democratic U.S. Rep. Abby Finkenauer said it was “unconscionable to play politics with Americans’ lives.”
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“Neighbors throughout Iowa are hurting and still devastated by natural disasters and need assistance. Now isn’t the time for a publicity stunt,” she said Friday.
So the “playing politics” shoe is now on the other foot.
Republicans, including Grassley and Ernst, have been critical of those Senate Democrats seeking their party’s 2020 presidential nomination who came to Iowa to tour the flood damage but blocked the disaster relief package because it did not include enough funding for Puerto Rico.
The compromise that was on track to pass — before Friday — included more money for Puerto Rico and was to deal with border issues separately. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter the deal had his “total approval.”
Finkenauer called the bill critical for Iowa communities recovering from flooding, including on the Mississippi River, that borders her district.
It includes $3 billion in U.S. Department of Agriculture funding to assist farmers with crop losses, $558 million for the Emergency Conservation Program, $600 million to assist with flood mitigation, long-term recovery and infrastructure restoration and $1.65 billion for the Federal Highway Administration’s emergency relief program to repair damaged roads.
Grassley’s provision extended the USDA aid to include destroyed crops that already were harvested and stored, such as corn and soybeans. Currently, there are no federal disaster programs for the loss of grain stored on farms.
Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig estimated roughly 100,000 acres of farmland were affected by flooding in Pottawattamie, Mills and Freemont counties.