WASHINGTON — The House on Friday passed a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package that also increases the nation’s debt limit and funds the federal government for the next three months.
The bill, which passed 316-90, now heads to President Trump’s desk for his signature. All House Democrats and a majority of Republicans who voted supported the bill, while 90 Republicans opposed it. The Senate passed the bill Thursday, 80-17.
The package is the result of a deal Trump struck on Wednesday with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., against the wishes of his own party leaders, who pushed for a longer-term increase of the debt limit. Before the deal, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said that lumping multiple bills together on a short-term basis was “ridiculous.”
But on Thursday, Ryan said Trump wanted a “bipartisan moment” as the country responds to hurricanes Harvey and Irma, now a Category 4 storm barreling toward Florida.
“We all thought we had more time obviously, to deal with the debt-limit issue, and that's before the hurricanes hit,” Ryan said at a Thursday news conference. “When these hurricanes hit and we saw the new numbers coming in from FEMA, that changed the entire calculation. And so the president made a game call yesterday that he thought it was — is in our country's interest to have a bipartisan support in a bipartisan package to deal with these ongoing hurricane disasters.”
The package provides initial emergency funding to respond to the hurricanes. It also maintains government operations at current levels through Dec. 8 and extends the National Flood Insurance Program and debt ceiling to that date.
The federal government is running out of borrowing authority, which officials say must be increased to pay for existing obligations, including hurricane relief efforts.
On Friday, Ryan trumpeted the bill's passage in an email with the subject line, "Help is coming."
"When fellow Americans are in need, we must help. That’s why it was so important for Congress to act — and act quickly — to deliver relief. Now this relief package goes to President Trump’s desk," Ryan said in a brief email that didn't mention any of the bill's funding provisions.
Many conservative Republicans who would like to couple government spending with offsets elsewhere were frustrated that the bill did none of that. They also said the president and GOP leadership had allowed them to be put into an awkward position.
“It’s fair to say that I’m not a happy camper about this process — this is what most people in the country say is wrong with Washington,” Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, told reporters at the Capitol after the vote. “You tie something that is obviously something that we all support, which is helping people in distress in America … with something else that would be more difficult to pass as a stand-alone bill.”
Barton was one of at least four Texas Republicans who voted against the bill. Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry also voted against the package.
Thornberry, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, expressed concern about the effects of a short-term spending bill on the military.
"The reason I am voting against this bill is that it forces our military to operate under a stopgap continuing resolution — once again," Thornberry wrote in a letter to Ryan. He said he was happy to support a clean bill that provided aid to Harvey victims.
The House on Wednesday passed a $7.9 billion aid package 419-3. The Senate bill added $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding for areas most affected by 2017 disasters.