By MICHELE F. MIHALJEVICH
WASHINTON, D.C. — Congress passed legislation last week designed to keep the federal government running until December, while providing disaster aid to areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. The House approved a $15.25 billion aid package Friday by a 316-90 vote, a day after the Senate passed the measure 80-17. President Donald Trump signed the bill Friday afternoon.
The legislation provides an extension of the debt ceiling (the legal limit on how much debt the federal government may incur) and money to fund the government through Dec. 8. If Congress hadn’t acted, the government could have shut down after the current fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Some funding in the bill could be used for other natural disasters such as damage related to Hurricane Irma. The legislation includes $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It also provides $450 million for the Small Business Authority disaster loan program.
Trump, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader
Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) reached agreement on the aid and budget bill during a
Sept. 6 meeting. Some Congressional Republicans had hoped for a longer extension
for government funding and the debt ceiling.
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said he voted against the legislation because he
wanted disaster relief and the budgetary items considered separately.
“It has become abundantly clear that Washington no longer sees the debt limit
as a chance to actually tackle our runaway debt problems,” he explained. “Rather,
it is used as a political football to move through the pending business of the day,
instead of an opportunity to offer responsible, forward-thinking plans to save future
generations from today’s out-of-control spending.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said while he would have preferred a longer-term
budget agreement, he understood why Trump made the deal with Congressional
“The President made it really clear, and what he was aiming for in that meeting
yesterday was a bipartisan moment while the country is facing two horrible
hurricanes,” he said Thursday. “He made that clear and I think that’s what his
Ryan said he’s concerned about the stability of credit markets. “I’m worried about
the credit markets and doing this on short-term basis, short-term basis, short-term
basis. We can’t keep doing it that way.
“The President made a game call yesterday that he thought it was in our country’s
interest to have a bipartisan support in a bipartisan package to deal with these
ongoing hurricane disasters, and so that is where we are right now. Hurricanes don’t
discriminate between Republicans and Democrats. Hurricanes just hit people. They
hit Americans,” he noted.