House approves $7.85B in emergency Harvey aid



House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., at a mock swearing-in ceremony in the U.S. Capitol on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Ryan swore in three new members of Congress, James Comer, R-Ky., Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, and Dwight Evans, D-Pa. (Bill Clark/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom/Zuma Press/TNS)

By Tom Brune | Newsday

The House quickly approved $7.85 billion in emergency disaster aid in an bipartisan midday vote Wednesday for Harvey’s recent devastation of Texas and Louisiana, and with an eye toward Hurricane Irma that’s on a path to wreak destruction in Florida.

In a 419-3 vote, the House passed a bill containing the Trump administration’s request for $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to continue its work helping local businesses governments, businesses and homeowners in Texas and Louisiana and $450 million for the Small Business Administration, which makes disaster loans.

The bill would then go to the Senate for another quick vote. The Senate version is expected be tied to an 18-month increase in the debt ceiling, which allows the federal government to avoid a default and keep borrowing money, and then sent back to the House for approval.


The quick House vote won a boost with the support of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (R-California), who said they would back the aid but only a three-month increase in the debt ceiling to avoid a default.

“Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default, while both sides work together to address government funding, DREAMERS, and health care,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a statement.

Schumer and Pelosi hope to use their leverage to force Republicans to work with them on compromises on an overloaded September agenda on emergency aid, the debt limit, funding the federal government, re-authorizing agencies and a popular children’s health program.

Schumer also is calling for an immediate vote to legalize the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump ended Tuesday, giving Congress six months to act to allow some 800,000 participants to stay and work here legally.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) need Democratic votes, though they have the majority, because some Republicans won’t vote to approve a debt ceiling increase without paying for it with other spending cuts.

Ryan welcomed the Democratic support for the aid, but sharply criticized Schumer and Pelosi for withholding support for a longer term increase in the federal government’s ability to borrow funds.

“I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling,” Ryan said at his weekly news conference, explaining that the short-term debt ceiling increase “could put in jeopardy the kind of aid we need.”


He added, “We’ve got to make sure we have the legal authority to put money into these hurricanes.”

McConnell repeated his call for a quick vote to approve the aid and raise the debt limit.

“Harvey has already unleased more rain than any other single storm recorded in the continental United States,” he said. “Irma has already forced the entire state of Florida into a state of Emergency.”

Conservatives objected to the debt ceiling increase.

Mike Needham, CEO of the hard-right Heritage Action advocacy group, said, “I think that exploiting this hurricane and people who lost their houses to allow business as usual in Washington of getting in 18-month increase to our nation’s debt limit passed, of continuing to spend money that we can’t afford, that we don’t have, makes absolutely no sense.”


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