House gives final approval to Harvey relief, debt ceiling package

The House on Friday gave final approval to a $15 billion Hurricane Harvey relief bill that includes a short-term suspension of the debt ceiling and funding to keep the government running for the next three months, sending the measure to President Trump’s desk.

The package passed on a 316-90 vote, with all opposing votes coming from Republicans. 

Congress moved with uncharacteristic speed on the bill to avert several looming crises – the prospect of not only triggering a government shutdown, but hitting the debt limit as the federal government burns through cash it needs to respond to both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma which is barreling into Florida.

The $15.25 billion approved Friday represents an initial payment as Texas recovers from its devastating storm and residents across the southeast brace for impact from Irma – a storm sure to require billions more from the federal government.

Separately, the package includes money to fund the government through Dec. 8, while suspending the debt ceiling through that same period. The package was the product of a stunning deal earlier this week between President Trump and congressional Democratic leaders that angered many GOP lawmakers.

Leaders like House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had wanted the strike a longer-term deal – instead, the short-term arrangement virtually guarantees a showdown in December. Some conservatives, meanwhile, were angry about attaching any debt-ceiling increase that doesn’t include spending reductions.

All 17 senators who opposed the bill in the Senate a day earlier were Republicans, just like on the House side Friday. 

Rep. Mark Walker, R-N.C., chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the largest bloc of conservatives in the House, had written to Ryan on Thursday opposing the measure.

“While some have advocated for a ‘clean’ debt limit increase, this would simply increase the borrowing authority of the government while irresponsibly ignoring the urgency of reforms,” he wrote. “Worse yet is attaching the debt limit to legislation that continues the status quo or even worsens the trajectory on spending, such as the deal announced yesterday by the President and Congressional Leadership.”

He suggested a slew of changes that could win Republicans votes, such as repealing ObamaCare and a balanced budget amendment.

The bill still was able to pass with a combination of GOP and Democratic votes.

Fox News is told Trump struck the short-term deal since he wants to clear the agenda so Congress can focus on tax reform. He reiterated that goal on Twitter Friday morning, saying, “Republicans must start the Tax Reform/Tax Cut legislation ASAP. Don’t wait until the end of September. Needed now more than ever. Hurry!”