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The Journal Gazette

Friday, September 08, 2017 1:00 am

Senate passes $15.3 billion Harvey package

Associated Press

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WASHINGTON – The Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly backed a $15.3 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane 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.

The 80-17 vote sends the package to the House for a vote today, 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.

Sens. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Todd Young, R-Ind., voted in favor of the legislation.

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.

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 headache for GOP leaders including 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 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.

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 emergency in Texas and parts of Louisiana.

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.

“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.”

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 voted 87-10 to kill a move by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to pay for the aid package by cutting foreign aid accounts.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., fared only slightly better in losing a 72-25 vote to kill a bid to remove the debt limit provision and all spending above Trump's request.

“Yesterday we saw Washington's swamp continue to rise: Chuck Schumer wrote the art of the steal by taking hurricane relief hostage to guarantee a December showdown that favors Democratic spending priorities,” Sasse said.

In the meeting with Republican and Democratic leaders Wednesday, Trump also suggested doing away with the debt ceiling entirely.

“It complicates things. It's really not necessary because you're talking about budget, so it's really not necessary,” Trump said Thursday.