Washington (AFP) – The US House of Representatives passed a $15 billion hurricane relief package Friday that included raising the debt ceiling and funding government until early December, sending the bill to President Donald Trump.
Lawmakers voted 316 to 90 to approve the package, which was the result of an agreement struck between Trump and congressional Democrats in a hurried effort to free up emergency funding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and as a second monster storm bears down on Florida.
“The House just voted to send critical aid to the victims of #HurricaneHarvey. Next stop → @POTUS,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a tweet, referring to the president.
The Senate easily passed the measure on Thursday, 80 to 17.
If Trump signs the bill, as expected, it would extend US borrowing authority and prevent a government shutdown by funding federal operations until December 8, and free up emergency relief funding just as Florida braces for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma, which has already been blamed for 17 deaths in the Caribbean.
Some Republican conservatives had strongly objected to the deal because they wanted a stand-alone hurricane relief bill unconnected to efforts to raise the federal borrowing limit and keep the government open.
All 90 House members who opposed the measure were Republicans.
“This was a bad deal, this was a foolish deal,” House Republican Sean Duffy told Fox Business Network, stressing Trump inadvertently handed Democrats substantial leverage when it comes to revisiting the debt ceiling and government funding in December, in large part because Republicans will be pressing ahead at that time with a tax reform bid.
“When we’re trying to do these big issues that we promised, this is going to come blow back right in our face,” Duffy said.
– ‘Necessary relief’ –
Congress’s immediate focus however was funnelling sufficient funding to government authorities like the Federal Emergency Management Administration, which has been helping thousands of victims of Hurricane Harvey that pummelled Texas late last month.
“Thanks 2 my colleagues in Congress 4 approving a supplemental funding package 4 @FEMA relief efforts,” tweeted House Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, whose Florida district is bracing for a direct impact from Irma.
Of the $15.25 billion in relief funding, about half is designated for FEMA’s disaster relief fund.
FEMA has burned through much of its disaster funding, due to the scope of Harvey and technical advancements that allow the agency to distribute money more quickly than in previous disasters.
With relief efforts for Harvey expected to top $100 billion, many lawmakers, like House Rules Committee chairman Pete Sessions, said the approved aid should be just a first step in broader federal assistance to come.
“Today’s measure will provide necessary relief and resources to help our fellow Americans as they face an extraordinarily difficult time,” Sessions said.
As Floridians made preparations for the storm or evacuated to safer ground, Trump assured the government was “ready” for Irma.
He said his administration was working to help communities facing “a storm of absolutely historic destructive potential,” but also urged people to “get out of its way, if possible.”