DENVER – Two of Colorado’s Republican congressmen voted Thursday against a disaster relief bill that will send $36 billion in aid to Puerto Rico and other places ravaged by recent hurricanes, as well as to programs aiding the firefighting efforts in the U.S. West.
The House of Representatives approved the aid package Thursday in a 353-69 vote. Reps. Ken Buck and Doug Lamborn both voted against the package, as did 67 of their Republican colleagues.
But the rest of Colorado’s House delegation—including Republicans Mike Coffman and Scott Tipton—voted to pass the measure for the much-needed aid package on to the Senate, which is expected to vote on it next week.
Still, more than two-thirds of House Republicans voted to pass the measure, despite ongoing concerns from most that deficits were rising because of the massive hurricane relief efforts that are draining the National Flood Insurance Program.
The House Freedom Caucus and a top Tea Party group had both voiced concerns about the measure earlier this week, saying the aid package should be offset by spending cuts in other areas.
For one, the National Flood Insurance Program is seeing approximately $16 billion of its debt being wiped out under the House-passed measure. FEMA has said the program has already reached its borrowing limit.
Buck and Lamborn are both members of the caucus, and both stuck to that message when casting their votes Thursday, saying while Puerto Rico and other areas desperately needed relief, they wouldn’t support raising the deficit.
"The Disaster Relief Appropriations bill is unacceptable because it writes off $16 billion of debt that the National Flood Insurance Program owes the Treasury without requiring any reforms in return. Congress cannot sweep this egregious error under the rug in the name of disaster relief. Our fellow Americans who are suffering right now deserve a solution that is responsible,” Lamborn said in a written statement to Denver7.
Buck took a similar stance when asked for comment on why he voted against the aid package.
“I fully support helping our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. I have voted for disaster relief funding, but I refuse to vote for bills that drastically increase the debt without reforming the policies causing that debt,” he told Denver7. “Rather than bailing out the National Flood Insurance Program like this legislation did today, we should be reforming the program to prepare for future disasters.”
The $36.5 billion package comes close to the $29 billion the White House has requested in addition to a September relief bill that added up to $15.3 billion. But Florida and Texas, ravaged by hurricanes this year, had asked for more this time around.
FEMA will get $18.7 billion of the money in the House-passed bill if it passes through the president’s desk, and $577 million will go to firefighting efforts. The remaining $16 billion will go to wipe out the portion of the Flood Insurance Program debt.
But the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands has asked for extra money as well. It was also devastated by the late-season hurricanes that swept through the Caribbean.
House Speaker Paul Ryan supported the move, saying the government has “to do more to help Puerto Rico rebuild its own economy.”
The island has already been the subject of scrutiny from Congress and President Trump throughout the year over its increasing debt, and the hurricane has exacerbated the problem.
Should the new aid measure pass, up to $5 billion of the money allocated to FEMA could go directly to Puerto Rico to help local authorities.
The Senate is expected to take up the aid package when it returns to session next week.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.