US Congress approves Trump’s $15 bln deal on aid, debt ceiling
WASHINGTON - ReutersU.S. President Donald Trump signed a bill late o Sept. 8 extending the government debt limit for three months and providing about $15 billion in hurricane-related aid, bringing his surprising deal with Democratic congressional leaders this week to completion.
The bill, approved in a 316-90 vote by the U.S. House of Representatives, had drawn criticism from some conservative members of Congress. But the Senate passed it on Sept. 7 and the Republican president signed it soon after arriving at Camp David, Maryland, for the weekend.
Despite controversy, lawmakers had rushed to approve the legislation, which provides $15.25 billion for emergency disaster aid, before government aid ran out at week’s end as Americans deal with two deadly hurricanes including Irma, a catastrophic storm which hit Florida yesterday.
Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore on Aug. 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, killed about 60 people, displaced more than 1 million, and the state governor has said it caused up to $180 billion in damage.
The bill raised questions about the relationship between Trump, a political outsider who took office in January, and Republican Party regulars. He has frequently criticized Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, and his deal on Wednesday with Democratic congressional leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi was an especially troublesome shock for conservative members.
Conservatives’ souring relations with the administration are likely to remain a factor as Congress and the White House now face a Dec. 8 deadline on the debt limit and government spending.
Asked about Trump working so closely with Democrats on the legislation, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: “I think that the president’s focus was doing what was best for the American people. I think the last thing we want to do is play partisan politics when we have people in places like Texas and Louisiana that need financial support through the federal government.”
A White House statement issued after Trump signed the bill said: “The President appreciates Congress putting aside partisan politics and acting quickly to ensure that first responders, local officials, and Federal emergency management personnel have the resources they need.”
Before the vote, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney had pleaded the White House’s case to Republican lawmakers early on Sept. 8. It was not well received by some.
“There’s a lot of disappointment in the decision the president made and the way our leadership was treated,” said House Republican Representative Hal Rogers, describing a sense of “animosity” at the meeting. “That’s a sore spot. It’s not a happy camp.”
“There was some hissing and I don’t know if there was some booing, but there were some groans,” Republican Representative Mark Walker said.
Mulvaney told the representatives now was not the time to discuss Washington fiscal problems because of the hurricanes. Conservatives reminded him that during his days as one of the most conservative members of Congress, he had been a strong advocate for threatening government shutdowns in order to win concessions on spending.
“It got a little warm for him a few times,” Walker said.
The bill’s $15.25 billion in emergency funding includes $7.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $450 million for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program and $7.4 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program at the Department of Housing and Urban Development.