WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a $15.3 billion aid package for victims of Harvey, nearly doubling President Donald Trump's emergency request, and adding a deal between Trump and Democrats to increase America's borrowing authority and fund the government into December.
Utah Republican Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee disagreed on the bill, with Hatch voting in favor and Lee against.
Hatch said he voted for the legislation to get relief to ravaged communities, which he said should not be political.
"I do not believe, however, that the deal the president struck with Democrat leaders was a good or responsible deal, and I hope we can have more success working with him on Republican priorities moving forward," he said in a statement.
The 80-17 vote sends the package to the House for a vote on Friday, though GOP conservatives are chafing at the inside-Washington maneuvering and painful debt limit vote. But with emergency accounts running out of money and Hurricane Irma barreling toward the East Coast, the measure appears set to easily pass. Trump will sign it.
The must-do legislation would also provide money to government agencies through Dec. 8, eliminating the threat of a government shutdown when the new fiscal year starts next month.
"Raising the debt limit without spending reforms is bad policy. Tying the debt limit to emergency disaster relief is a disgraceful process," Lee said in a statement, adding he would not vote for a status quo deal that only perpetuates the worst of Washington.
Thursday's vote came a day after Trump stunned GOP leaders by siding with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, by backing a short-term extension to the debt limit increase and the spending bill.
The need to raise the debt limit to ease a looming cash crunch that is worsening because of unanticipated Harvey spending was a major headache for GOP leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., who had urged a longer extension to spare Republicans multiple votes ahead of next year's midterm elections.
GOP leaders are fuming, but Ryan backed the idea on Thursday, telling reporters that the president didn't want to have "some partisan fight in the middle of the response."
The aid money comes as Harvey recovery efforts are draining federal disaster aid coffers and Irma is taking aim at Florida. It's just the first installment on a recovery and rebuilding package for the twin hurricanes that could eclipse the more than $110 billion cost to taxpayers of Hurricane Katrina.
In a surprise move late Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell added $7.4 billion in rebuilding funding to Trump's $7.9 billion request to deal with the immediate emergency in Texas and parts of Louisiana.
Tying the debt limit to emergency disaster relief is a disgraceful process.
–Sen. Mike Lee
"It will provide certainty and stability for first responders, state officials, and the many others involved in preparing for and recovering from these storms, with critically needed emergency resources that will not be interrupted by the prospect of a shutdown or default," McConnell said Thursday. "The recovery effort for a record-setting storm like Harvey has strained resources to the limit already."
McConnell also added a temporary extension of the federal flood insurance program.
The additional community block grant money is to jump-start rebuilding efforts. The money can cover costs the Federal Emergency Management Agency can't.
"This funding will serve as an initial first step toward helping Texans begin the process of rebuilding," said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who requested the additional funding be adding to the measure.
Adding the debt ceiling increase to the measure is upsetting many GOP conservatives, who want to accompany that politically toxic measure with cuts to spending.
I do not believe, however, that the deal the president struck with Democrat leaders was a good or responsible deal.
–Sen. Orrin Hatch
"Not that the relief package is bad but the debt ceiling vote, attached to the relief package, is Washington like most people wish it wasn't," said Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas. "It's like the Washington that Trump campaigned against. So, as much as I want to help Texas, I can't vote for something that just is a blank check on the debt."
And the perception that Pelosi came away with a victory has Republicans grinding their molars.
Pelosi used a Thursday news conference to take a victory lap, telling reporters that her deal with Trump ensured that Democrats would have leverage during upcoming Washington debates this fall on health care, government spending, and immigration.
Just before the final vote, the Senate easily voted 87-10 to kill a move by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to pay for the aid package by cutting foreign aid accounts.
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