Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) told reporters on Monday that appropriators will propose $720 million in emergency funds to California in relief of the latest outbreak of wildfires. Ranking Member Leahy will seek to attach the relief package to one of the outstanding spending bills that Congress must pass before December 7, 2018 to avoid a government shutdown.
In recent weeks, President Trump has suggested withholding federal support for California, blaming the state’s deadly wildfires on California’s forest management practices. If President Trump opposes Ranking Member Leahy’s proposal for wildfire relief, it would be one of many fronts of conflict between the White House and Congress over the outstanding appropriations bills. Most notably, President Trump is threatening a government-wide shut down if Congress passes a bill that funds the Department of Homeland Security without $5 billion in dedicated funding for construction of a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. The border wall is President Trump’s top priority in the upcoming spending fight, and California’s emergency relief could be used as a negotiating chip that gets passed between Senate Democrats and the White House. Congress has not passed seven of the 12 appropriations bills required to fully fund the federal government through Fiscal 2019. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Alabama) met with President Trump this week to negotiate a path forward on remaining roadblocks. Majority Leader McConnell and Chairman Shelby were both optimistic following the meeting but acknowledged there is a lot of work to be done before the remaining appropriations packages can be finalized.