Senate Passes Harvey Disaster Relief Bill With Debt-Ceiling Rider

WASHINGTON (CN) – The Senate on Thursday passed a wide-ranging bill that will fund the government into December, raise the debt ceiling and provide $15.3 billion in disaster relief to areas hit by Hurricane Harvey.

The agreement to tie the three key items together came together on Wednesday, when President Donald Trump, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., struck a deal. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., announced later in the day that he would support the agreement, though conservative lawmakers were not keen on the idea.

Those concerns led to a healthy portion of the Republican caucus voting against the bill, but the package still passed the Senate on an 80-17 vote.

All 17 lawmakers who voted against the deal were Republicans and included prominent senators like Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

In addition to the Harvey money, the agreement raises the debt limit and funds the government for three months. Congress faced an end-of-month deadline to pass both measures or face a government shutdown and the prospect of the United States defaulting on its debt.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., attempted to send the package back to a Senate committee on Thursday with instructions to offset the disaster spending, while Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., filed a similar motion to force the committee to separate the disaster relief from the government funding and debt ceiling agreement.

Both measures failed by wide margins on Thursday, allowing the Senate to vote on the full package, sending it back to the House of Representatives. The House passed the Harvey agreement on Wednesday.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, praised the relief money that will go to his state to help people recovering from Hurricane Harvey, but told reporters on Thursday that it was a “mistake” to include it alongside the debt limit and government funding agreement.

The Washington Post on Thursday added additional intrigue to the unexpected alignment of Trump, Schumer and Pelosi, reporting that Trump agreed to work with Schumer to eliminate the debt limit entirely.

Speaking to reporters at the White House on Thursday, Trump said “there are a lot of good reasons” to make such a move.

“Well, I think that, you know, it could be discussed,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “For many years people have been talking about getting rid of debt ceiling altogether and there are a lot of good reasons to do that. So certainly that is something that could be discussed. We even discussed it at the meeting we had yesterday.”

Any such plan could have trouble winning support from conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill, who see Congress’ role in raising the debt ceiling a key fiscal check on the federal government.

“I don’t know, but you’re going to have trouble getting people to agree to having the debt limit just automatically raised,” McCain told reporters on Thursday.

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