The Senate approved $15.25 billion in disaster aid as part of an agreement struck by President Trump and congressional Democrats that will also raise the federal borrowing limit and keep the government open until Dec. 8.
The bill passed by a vote of 80 to 17 on Thursday afternoon. The House is expected to quickly vote on the package, despite growing opposition from fiscal conservatives who oppose pairing aid with debt and spending elements.
The Senate legislation includes $450 million for the Small Business Authority disaster loan program and $7.4 billion in grants for housing affected areas in addition to $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency from the House bill. The Senate legislation also gives Congress until Dec. 8 to negotiate a new spending agreement and increase the debt limit.
Leaders worked through the night Wednesday and into Thursday morning to reach an agreement with conservatives like Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to speed up the timing of a vote on the package. Paul has requested a vote on an amendment that would use spending cuts to offset the cost of the disaster relief package.
“My amendment will give the Senate a chance to fund necessary relief in a fiscally responsible manner,” Paul said in a statement. “I urge my fellow senators to support it.”
Other conservatives, including Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) have called for votes to approve the disaster relief without the debt and spending portions announced Wednesday following a meeting between Congressional leaders and President Trump.
McConnell praised that agreement Thursday morning despite broad GOP concerns that Trump caved to Democrats on the their request that any deadline for extending the federal borrowing limit line up with a short-term spending package.
“It will provide certainty and stability for first responder, state officials and the many others involved in preparing for and recovering from these storms with critically needed emergency funds that will not be interrupted by the prospect of a shutdown or default,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Let’s work together and act on this legislation very quickly.”
If approved, the legislation is expected to set the stage for a bruising year-end fiscal battle.
“The president agreed with Senator Schumer and Congresswoman Pelosi to do a three-month [funding extension] and a debt ceiling into December, and that’s what I will be offering, based on the president’s decision, to the bill,” McConnell told reporters after the meeting. “The president can speak for himself, but his feeling was that we needed to come together to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis.”
The Senate is expected to approve the package when it comes up for a vote and send it to the House for final approval. Leaders are rushing to approve FEMA money before emergency funds run out in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Some congressional leaders have said they worry the agency’s coffers could run dry by week’s end.
“The legislation before the Senate would address the nation’s most pressing needs,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) in a statement. “The serious nature of the natural disasters and fiscal commitments before us demand the Senate and House act without delay. We need to act to support the victims, volunteers and first responders on the ground.”
Several details of the legislation, including the length of the spending and borrowing agreement, changed through the day Wednesday as GOP leaders finalized the details. Cochran said the final package was reached with support from the White House.
The significant increase in funding in the Senate bill is expected to help shore up emergency disaster relief programs as Hurricane Irma races through the Caribbean toward Florida.