Washington - The U.S.House Democratic majority has the votes to approve the emergency supplemental spending bill for Puerto Rico but, in light of opposition from the Donald Trump administration, the political battle over those funds is just beginning, and may last for months.
In recognizing a long struggle with the Senate Republican majority and President Trump ahead, the Democratic leadership reaffirmed they are willing to approve a bill seeking to allocate $4.67 billion in emergency funds to mitigate the damage caused by the earthquakes in Puerto Rico and needs that may arise in other jurisdictions.
The bill allows to include funds previously approved to address the disaster caused by Hurricane María and the approval of key tax subsidies, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).
When the legislation was going to a vote Wednesday in the House Committee on Rules, the Trump administration- as El Nuevo Día had anticipated - announced its opposition to the bill, which it considers unnecessary, and again citing what they describe as “a long history of inadequate financial controls over regular government operations,” alluding to recent mishandling of supplies for earthquake victims.
Hours after Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced - who says she has restored confidence in the island's public administration - and Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer Gónzalez met with the next White House Reconstruction Coordinator, Peter Brown, the Office of Management and Budget's (OMB) has once again suggested that the Trump administration's perception of the Puerto Rican government has not changed.
"Multiple high-profile cases of corruption have marred distribution of aid already appropriated and have led to ongoing political instability on the island," says the OMB statement, which is still under the direction of acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney.
Today's debate will include an amendment by Commissioner Gonzalez seeking to increase nutrition assistance funds from $40 million to $210 million.
They will also discuss amendments to separate $1 million - from the $3.26 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) funds proposed in the legislation - to direct renewable energy projects, another $1 million to study the impact of the recent earthquakes on education and to ensure that information on the use of CDBG-DR funds reaches people who are not fluent in English, which is the majority of the people of Puerto Rico.
In addition to the $3.26 billion in CDBG-DR funds, the bill allocates $1.25 billion for road improvement and $100 million for education needs. It also includes $15 million for technical support to the power grid and $6.75 million for earthquake risk analysis, improving long-term energy planning, raising energy awareness and strengthening cybersecurity in critical infrastructure.
In the face of White House opposition to the legislation, Commissioner Gónzalez said she hopes Congress will overcome Trump's threat, as it has in the past.
"This is not the first time that OMB has opposed funding measures for Puerto Rico," González said, stressing her concern that the Senate Republican majority has not been consulted.
One of her November potential rivals, former Governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá - the only PPD candidate for Resident Commissioner - said OMB's statement reflects that neither the governor nor Gónzalez are being considered in the White House.
"Opposing this aid is simply heartless," said Puerto Rican Democrat Nydia Velázquez (New York).
The measure, among other things, incorporates the language of a bill approved in the Ways and Means Committee to largely fund the implementation in Puerto Rico of the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC), which can have an $ 800 million economic impact on the island annually.
Like the White House, Congressional Republicans have questioned whether the funds are necessary, given the slow use of CDBG-DR money; they also question tax issues into the measure and have alluded to the mishandling of supplies a Ponce warehouse after the earthquakes.
Republican Tom Rice (South Carolina), on behalf of the Ways and Means Committee minority, criticized the fact that the Treasury has to finance the EITC in Puerto Rico and said that "those people," the island's residents, do not pay federal income taxes.
His Republican colleague Garret Graves (Louisiana) indicated that - due to the billions of dollars that have not been released yet – the bill should be limited to allowing FEMA and CDBG funds allocated after Hurricane María to also be used to mitigate earthquake damage.