Government

Ernst sees Senate 'inching forward' on flood help

Relief for Iowa entangled in debate over aid for Puerto Rico

Crews remove barriers at the Iowa-Missouri border Wednesday to reopen Interstate 29. Road crews have been working to repair and reopen highways in western Iowa since a “bomb cyclone” storm struck in March and sent the Missouri River surging, overpowering levees and inundating large swathes of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. (Photo from Iowa Department of Transportation)
Crews remove barriers at the Iowa-Missouri border Wednesday to reopen Interstate 29. Road crews have been working to repair and reopen highways in western Iowa since a “bomb cyclone” storm struck in March and sent the Missouri River surging, overpowering levees and inundating large swathes of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska. (Photo from Iowa Department of Transportation)

U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst said Wednesday she is encouraged by progress toward reaching a bipartisan congressional compromise on disaster aid for Iowa flood victims.

Negotiators in the Senate are “inching forward” to a deal that would include disaster aid both for the Midwest and for Puerto Rico, she said. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated he wants the package completed by Memorial Day.

“This spring has brought tough times to Iowans across our state with the disastrous flooding” in both western and Eastern Iowa, around the Davenport area, she said.

“In times like these, Iowans come together, we care for one another and we are lending a helping hand to one another,” she said.

But federal assistance is needed, too, the Red Oak Republican said told reporters during a conference call.

The House has a $17 billion plan that includes flood aid for the Midwest. However, a GOP Senate proposal that included similar assistance was blocked by Senate Democrats, she said.

Congressional Democrats have said the measures do not do enough to help the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, which still is struggling with the aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley has been surprised by the controversy over the funding because usually the disaster relief fund is replenished by unanimous consent.

“So this political dispute over disaster money, especially as it related to Puerto Rico, is pretty surprising to me,” the Iowa Republican said. “You don’t run into this very often.”

He predicted there will be at least one more disaster relief supplemental funding bill this year.

Ernst sees a Senate plan being worked on by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby and Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy as the path forward because it would be approved by the Senate and “most likely” by the House and signed by the president.

One hiccup is that Trump is asking for funding for border security in the package as well. It’s not for a physical barrier, Ernst said, but for more beds for families being apprehended at the border.

Grassley also sees that as an impediment to approving the flood aid.

“I would think that would make it more difficult unless Democrats saw the need for additional funding … as much for humanitarian needs as other reasons,” he said Wednesday.

Some of the additional money would be for housing and some for personnel to process arrivals at the border.

“That is a good thing, folks, if we can keep those families together,” Ernst said. Her preference, however, is for the border security funding to be in a separate package. Including it would make passing disaster aid more difficult.

“We’d like to take a straight-up disaster aid bill,” Ernst said.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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