Massive disaster relief bill stalls in US Senate

The US Senate has blocked billions of dollars in disaster relief for states across the country as Republicans and Democrats clashed over President Donald Trumps opposition to sending more food and infrastructure help to Puerto Rico.

Senate Democrats opposed a separate measure drafted by Republicans on Monday, saying the $600 million included in it for Puerto Rico’s food stamp programme was not enough to meet the US territory’s needs as it attempts to recover from Hurricane Maria.

The Democrats were backing a House-passed relief bill containing hundreds of millions of dollars more for Puerto Rico than the GOP version, but it, too, failed to advance as Republicans opposed it, the Washington Post reported.

Most Republicans refused to endorse the recovery bill passed this year by the House. They cited Trump’s opposition to the bill’s Puerto Rico funding as well as their own concerns that the bill lacked money for states like Iowa and Nebraska that have since been devastated by flooding and tornadoes.

The vote on the GOP bill was 44 in favour and 49 against. The House Democratic bill failed on a vote of 46 to 48. Sixty votes were needed for either piece of legislation to advance.

According to the New York Times, the effort begins anew on Tuesday, when Senate Democrats will propose a measure that would allocate billions of dollars that would help Iowa and Nebraska, as well as Puerto Rico, said a Senate Democratic aide.

Trump has been pressuring Democrats to support a disaster relief measure that does not include the money they want for Puerto Rico and he went on the attack late Monday on Twitter.

“The Democrats today killed a bill that would have provided great relief to farmers and yet more money to Puerto Rico despite the fact that Puerto Rico has already been scheduled to receive more hurricane relief funding than any ‘place’ in history,” he tweeted.

Puerto Ricans “are great but their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess – nothing works”, the President said.

He claimed last week that he had taken better care of Puerto Rico than any living human being. But Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosello, a Democrat, described Trump as a “bully” and threatened during an interview on CNN to punch him in the mouth.

Rosello has publicly called on Congress to approve House Democrats’ version of the bill – although without specifically opposing the Senate GOP version.