The House voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday to approve a $7.85-billion Hurricane Harvey aid bill, a down payment on what is expected to be a much larger federal sum to address catastrophic flooding in Texas and Louisiana. (Sept. 6, 2017) (Sign up for our free video newsletter here http://bit.ly/2n6VKPR)
Hurricane Harvey caused an estimated $160 billion in damage and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is running out of money fast.
Houston and surrounding areas are in desperate need of financial relief. Where will it come from?
Both branches of Congress are trying to come together to approve a nearly $8 billion aid bill and, as with anything in Washington these days, that’s not as easy as it sounds.
Here’s what you need to know about the federal government’s efforts to respond to Hurricane Harvey.
What has Congress done so far?
The House approved a $7.85 billion aid package for victims of Hurricane Harvey on Wednesday morning with a 419-3 vote. Reps. Justin Amash, R-Michigan, Andy Biggs, R-Arizona, and Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky voted against the bill.
The funding package will provide $7.4 billion to FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and $450 billion will go to the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program.
With House approval, the bill now moves to the Senate.
What next for the Harvey funding bill?
The bill’s route to Senate approval is complicated because Congress is also under a deadline to raise the debt ceiling and fund the government.
Senate Democrats want to tie legislation to increase the debt ceiling to the Harvey package. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, are leading the charge.
"Democrats are prepared to offer our votes for the Harvey aid package, and a short-term debt limit increase of three months," Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement. "Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default, while both sides work together to address government funding, Dreamers and health care."
Republicans aren’t so thrilled with the idea.
“I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens in need, to respond to these hurricanes so we do not strand them,” House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, said on Wednesday morning.
Watch Ryan discuss his thoughts on the politics unfolding in Washington.
How is President Donald Trump involved?
Trump sided with the Democrats’ plan later Wednesday despite opposition from Republicans. The president had “a very good meeting” with Pelosi and Schumer and afterward told reporters he agreed with their plan to a “three-month extension on the debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred, very important.”
He ultimately has to sign off on the funding for Harvey and the legislation to raise the debt ceiling.
But the Senate is controlled by the GOP and it remains to be seen whether Republicans will get behind what Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Nebraska, is calling “the Pelosi-Schumer-Trump deal.”
The Senate is expected to vote on the legislation by the end of the week.