Se­nate passes $15B Har­vey package, debt limit hike

Baltimore Sun - - HARVEY’S AFTERMATH - By An­drew Tay­lor

WASHINGTON — The Se­nate on Thurs­day over­whelm­ingly backed a $15.3 bil­lion aid package for vic­tims of Har­vey, nearly dou­bling Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s emer­gency re­quest, and adding a deal be­tween Trump and Democrats to in­crease Amer­ica’s bor­row­ing author­ity and fund the gov­ern­ment.

The 80-17 vote sends the mas­sive package to the House for a Fri­day vote, with emer­gency ac­counts run­ning out of money and Hurricane Irma bar­rel­ing toward the East Coast. Trump is ex­pected to sign the mea­sure.

The leg­is­la­tion would pro­vide money to gov­ern­ment agen­cies through Dec. 8, elim­i­nat­ing the threat of a gov­ern­ment shut­down when the new fis­cal year starts next month.

The aid money comes as Har­vey re­cov­ery ef­forts are drain­ing fed­eral dis­as­ter aid cof­fers and Irma is tak­ing aim at Florida. It’s just the first in­stall­ment on a re­cov­ery and re­build­ing package for the twin hur­ri­canes that could eclipse the more than $110 bil­lion cost to tax­pay­ers of Hurricane Ka­t­rina.

In a sur­prise move late Wednesday, Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch 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.

“It will pro­vide cer­tainty and sta­bil­ity for first re­spon­ders, state of­fi­cials, and the many others in­volved in pre­par­ing for and re­cov­er­ing from these storms, with crit­i­cally needed emer­gency re­sources that will not be in­ter­rupted by the prospect of a shut­down or de­fault,” McCon­nell said Thurs­day. “The re­cov­ery effort for a record-set­ting storm like Har­vey has strained re­sources to the limit al­ready.”

McCon­nell also added a tem­po­rary ex­ten­sion of the fed­eral flood in­surance pro­gram, which would have ex­pired at the end of the month.

The $15 bil­lion-plus aid package is also crafted in such a way to free up another $7 bil­lion in Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency dis­as­ter re­lief funds.

Just be­fore the fi­nal vote, the Se­nate eas­ily voted 87-10 to kill a move by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to pay for the aid package by cut­ting for­eign aid ac­counts.

Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., fared only slightly better in los­ing a 72-25 vote to kill a bid to re­move the debt limit lan­guage and all spend­ing above Trump’s re­quest. “Do your con­stituents know that we’re us­ing the hurricane as an ex­cuse to ex­tend the debt ceil­ing?” Sasse said. “We can’t pay our credit card bill, so we’re just go­ing to take over the credit card company and change our credit limit with­out any dis­cus­sion.”

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