- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Republicans and Democrats linked arms in the House Wednesday to approve a first installment of emergency aid for Hurricane Harvey victims, cutting through partisan sniping and moving with alacrity.

The $7.85 billion cash infusion still needs approval in the Senate, where GOP leaders are complicating the matter by saying they want to tie it to a controversial debt hike.

But in the House, the push to show federal generosity for those recovering from the storm led to an overwhelming 419-3 vote.

“We speak in one voice,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, Texas Democrat.

The money will go to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which rushed to the rescue as Harvey dumped a record amount of rain on southeastern Texas, in what analysts said is likely to be the costliest storm in U.S. history.

FEMA needs quick cash because money is going out so much faster than in the past, thanks to technology. Homeowners can now quickly register for help, giving federal officials a sense for how much is needed to pay for hotel rooms, emergency food and water supplies and other immediate needs.

“Help is on the way,” said Rep. John Culberson, a Texas Republican who said his brother and his in-laws were among those who have had their homes devastated by the flooding. “Today in Congress there are no Republicans and no Democrats.”

This week’s package is just an early downpayment, with $7.4 billion going to FEMA and another $450 million for the Small Business Administration, which doles out loans to help small businesses get back on their feet after disasters.

Texas officials have said they may end up needing total federal aide in excess of $180 billion — more than the combined totals for Hurricane Katrina, which smashed the Gulf of Mexico coast in 2005, and Hurricane Sandy, which battered New York and New Jersey in 2012.

Wednesday’s vote showed just how much things have changed since the Sandy fight, which saw many in the GOP, including most Texas Republicans, balk at an aid package, saying it was bloated with non-emergency provisions.

The three votes in opposition to the bill came from Republicans.

House Speaker Paul D. Ryan said Congress won’t leave town for the weekend without getting a Harvey aid bill done.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell could complicate the issue with his proposal to couple a hike in the government’s borrowing limit to the Harvey bill.

He said more Harvey money doesn’t help unless the government has the power to borrow the money. The government’s fiscal sheet is so out of balance that it could not remain open without deepening the already $20 trillion debt.

“The need for certainty now is incredibly important,” Mr. McConnell said.

Democratic leaders said they would support tying the debt increase to Harvey aid, but only if the debt increase lasts just three months — which would put Congress right back in another crisis at the end of this year.

“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,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in a joint statement.

Mr. Ryan rejected that suggestion as “ridiculous and disgraceful.”

“They want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need,” he said.

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