By Mike Debonis And Kelsey Snell / The Washington Post
The House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a $15.25 billion disaster aid package despite strong objections from conservatives who oppose including an agreement struck by President Donald Trump and congressional Democrats to raise the federal borrowing limit and keep the government open until Dec. 8.
The measure passed by a vote of 316-90.
Democrats were expected to deliver a majority of the votes to approve the deal, making it easier for Republicans to vote against the package without the threat of failing to provide critical disaster funding as Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida’s southern coast.
The legislation easily passed the Senate by a vote of 80-17 on Thursday, despite similar concerns from Senate conservatives.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., was among those Republicans who initially opposed the idea of a three-month extension of the federal borrowing limit, but he said Thursday that he supports the legislation. Ryan said he worries about the impact of continued reliance on short-term debt limit fixes on credit markets but the package Trump agreed to is intended to create certainty while the United States responds to a number of natural disasters.
“We need to make sure that the government responds to people,” Ryan told reporters at a weekly news conference. “So the president wanted to make sure that we are – are going together as Republicans and Democrats to respond to this.”
Among those most frustrated by Trump’s deal with Democrats were Texas conservatives who represent the area affected by Hurricane Harvey. Texas lawmakers met Thursday for a bipartisan lunch during which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) called in and urged them to support the federal aid bill.
Many conservatives left the lunch saying that they expected to take their first-ever vote in favor of a debt-ceiling hike in order to advance Harvey aid.
“My fear is we set a bad precedent here, that you just load it up with other stuff,” said Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Tex., who represents the area where Harvey first made landfall. “This is what’s wrong in Washington: They pile stuff together so you have to weigh the good versus the bad rather than give every issue individual consideration. That’s the part of living in the swamp I don’t like.”
At least one Texas Republican said he would vote against the bill: Rep. Joe Barton, who represents a Dallas area district. Another key lawmaker, Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Tex., the House Financial Services Committee chairman, is also skeptical, calling the notion of attaching a debt increase to Harvey aid a “uniquely bad idea” in a brief interview.
“I love President Trump, and I’m with him probably 90 or 95 percent of the time, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to raise the debt ceiling with $19 trillion public debt and not have any effort to change the way we spend money here in Washington,” Barton said.
Rep. Bill Flores, R-Tex., who represents a West Texas district largely spared by Harvey, said he was undecided on the bill and wondered about its consequences.
“I just hope the president isn’t hurt by the long-term impact of this deal,” he said. “You think about a Dec. 8 debt-ceiling deadline: The Democrats are going to play that for all its worth in terms of a government shutdown and trying to cut a deal that may have all of their pet projects in it, and that may be something the president doesn’t find to be beneficial.”