The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Friday to send a $15.3 billion US disaster aid package to President Donald Trump, overcoming conservative objections to linking the emergency legislation to a temporary increase in the country’s borrowing authority. The legislation also keeps the government funded into December.
Lawmakers overcame objections from conservatives who didn’t want the emergency aid linked to a temporary increase in the U.S.’s borrowing authority.
The 316-90 vote would refill depleted emergency accounts as Florida braces for the impact of Hurricane Irma and Texas picks up the pieces after the devastation of Harvey.
All 90 No votes were cast by Republicans.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday that Trump was not concerned about the displeasure of some within his party.
“The president’s focus was doing what was best for the American people and that’s why he’s the president,” she said. “People wanted somebody to be a leader, they wanted somebody to step up and take action.
“The last thing we want to do is play partisan politics when we have people in places like Texas and Louisiana that need financial support through the federal government.”
It’s just the first instalment of a federal aid package that could rival or exceed the $110 billion federal response after Hurricane Katrina, though future aid packages may be more difficult to pass. It also kicks budget decisions into December and forces another politically tough debt limit vote next year.
It was not immediately clear how soon Trump would sign the bill into law.
Trump on Wednesday had cut a deal with Democratic leaders Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi to increase the debt limit for three months.
“I certainly think the goal is to have bipartisan efforts,” Sanders said of the upcoming legislative session, adding that it’s what “American people expect” from their government.
Trump cut the deal over the objections of Republicans Paul Ryan, the House Speaker, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who lobbied unsuccessfully for much different terms, and in which the issue could conceivably have been fixed through next years’ midterms.
Trump exulted in his newly bipartisan approach Thursday, declaring it “a great thing for our country.”
Pelosi said in an interview with reporters Friday that the Democrats had the leverage because Republicans didn’t have the votes to pass the longer extension they wanted on their own. She said Trump quickly grasped that.
“The president has been in a business where knowing your numbers has been essential,” Pelosi said. “He saw that they didn’t have the votes; we had a plan.”
Fiscal conservatives have clamoured for deep cuts in spending in exchange for any increase in the government’s borrowing authority. The storm relief measure had widespread support, but the linkage with the debt ceiling left many Republicans frustrated.
“The Republican brand, if anything, is strong national defence and fiscal sanity. So that’s us. Are we doing anything on fiscal sanity? No,” said House member Dave Brat of Virginia.
But most Republicans said they weren’t upset with Trump himself.
Democratic votes are invariably needed to increase the debt limit — and avert a potential market-quaking default on government obligations — and Schumer and Pelosi successfully pressed to waive the debt limit through Dec. 8. Democrats are cautious about working with Trump, but hold out hope for legislation on the budget, health care, and shielding young immigrants brought to this country illegally from deportation.
“It is heartening that the White House has finally after eight months realized that if you want to get something done, you’ve got to work with both sides, and Democrats are a real force to be reckoned with,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat.
Pelosi hopes for compromise
As a practical measure, since the arcane debt-limit suspension replenishes Treasury’s ability to tap other accounts to maintain cash flows, the actual date of a potential default wouldn’t come before February or March — and maybe even not until next summer. That’s according to a back-of-the-envelope calculation by Shai Akabas, who tracks the issue for the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think-tank.
Late Wednesday, 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. The Senate passed the measure on Thursday by an 80-17 vote.
At the Capitol on Wednesday, Ryan had deemed a three-month debt ceiling increase as “unworkable” and “ridiculous.”
Trump and Ryan dined together at the White House on Thursday, however, and by Friday morning, Trump was tweeting about legislative priorities as the current session begins.
Republicans must start the Tax Reform/Tax Cut legislation ASAP. Don’t wait until the end of September. Needed now more than ever. Hurry!
Sanders denied to reporters that Trump had given up on health-care reform, despite the repeated efforts to repeal or replace Obamacare that failed in the spring and summer.
For her part, Pelosi said she would make “no apology” for working across the aisle.
Pelosi said that vote suggests Republicans are going to have a hard time passing other upcoming spending bills on their own, and will have to turn to Democrats again.
“If it’s depending on Democratic votes, it increases our leverage,” Pelosi said in an interview with a small group of reporters. “It gives us a possibility for passing the DREAM Act” as an amendment to spending legislation.”
The DREAM Act refers to legislation that would provide legal status to immigrants brought illegally to the country as children. Some 800,000 of these immigrants are currently protected from deportation by temporary work permits granted by an Obama administration program, but Trump has said he will dismantle it.
Trump has given Congress six months to act before the program ends.
At Pelosi’s urging, Trump sent a tweet Thursday morning reassuring so-called Dreamers that they would not be subject to deportation during that six-month period.