WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote Thursday afternoon on a $15.25 billion hurricane relief package that also increases the nation’s debt limit and funds the government for the next three months.
The package is the result of a deal President Trump struck 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.
It would provide initial emergency funding to respond to to disasters caused by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, a category 5 storm expected to hit Florida. The bill also maintains government operations at current levels through Dec. 8 and extends the 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.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said on Wednesday that lumping multiple bills together on a short-term basis was “ridiculous,” but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would back the package after Trump made the deal.
The House on Wednesday passed a $7.9 billion aid package 419-3 for victims of Harvey. The Senate bill adds $7.4 billion in Community Development Block Grant funding for areas most affected by 2017 disasters.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, called it "unfortunate" that the bill is tied to an increase in the debt ceiling and a resolution to continue funding the government until mid-December. But he said he would vote in favor of the package, which will provide aid to millions of Texans hurt by the hurricane.
"These funds are immediate, properly targeted to the areas hit by the storm, and focused on clean-up and rebuilding," he said in a statement. "This will not be nearly enough to cover all the costs — most estimates of total damage are well in excess of $100 billion — but it is a significant first step."
Some Republicans balked at the package, with Sen. Ben Sasse calling it Schumer’s “art of the steal.” He said it holds hurricane relief hostage to guarantee a December “showdown” favoring Democratic spending priorities. An amendment he filed to let the Senate vote on the House bill failed.
“Republicans should reject Schumer’s deal and instead pass the same clean aid package for Harvey victims that the House passed yesterday,” he said in a statement.
Leaders of the influential Republican Study Committee, the largest House Republican caucus, also opposed the deal. The committee’s chairman, Rep. Mark Walker of North Carolina, sent a letter to Ryan on Thursday with 19 policy proposals — including a balanced budget amendment, a repeal of Obamacare, and reforms to begin “draining the swamp” — to win conservative support for a package to raise the debt ceiling.
“Republicans campaigned on changing the status quo, and Americans elected us based on that message,” Walker said in a statement. “These proposed reforms present a way forward to make right on the promise and pass bills that reflect that Republicans control Congress and the White House.”
Contributing: Paul Singer and Eliza Collins