As the Senate on Thursday easily approved $15.25 billion to bolster the federal disaster response to Hurricane Harvey, GOP lawmakers gritted their teeth over provisions added to the bill – with the blessing of President Donald Trump – which would extend the federal debt limit for three months, and provide for the funding of government operations until December 8.
“It’s unfortunate, they ought to be separate votes,” said Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), who predicted he would not be the only Texan on Friday to oppose the Harvey aid bill in the House, all because of the deal that President Trump struck with Democrats, and forced on GOP leaders.
“There should be some effort to offset the spending and to reform the way we do budgeting,” Barton said, as some GOP lawmakers felt like they had given up a golden opportunity to make a push to rein in spending.
“This is an embarrassing moment for a Republican controlled Congress and a Republican controlled administration,” said Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), one of 17 GOP Senators who voted against the Harvey plan because of the addition of the debt limit increase and/or the stopgap budget.
“Disaster relief and the debt ceiling should have been completely separate,” said Sen. James Lankford (R-OK).
Mr. Trump stirred the waters even more on Thursday afternoon by suggesting that it might be time to do away with debt ceiling votes, which in recent years have been used by Republicans to try to squeeze out more in terms of budget savings, to reduce the debt.
“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,” the President said during a photo op at the White House.
With most, if not all, Democrats ready to support the Harvey disaster aid bill in the House, that could set the stage for a number of defections by more conservative Republicans, who have been hoping for some action on budget cuts.
GOP efforts to find offsetting cuts for the Harvey aid in the Senate went nowhere – the Senate rejected a plan from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) to make $15 billion in foreign aid cuts; the vote was 87-10 against.
The Senate also voted 72-25 to defeat a move by Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) to decouple the debt limit increase and the temporary budget from the Harvey aid.
“Nobody has the courage to say, why don’t we pay for it,” Paul said in a frustrated tone on the Senate floor.
The Friday vote on the Harvey aid plan may not be the last one this month – Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL) said he was told by the FEMA chief on Thursday that the $15.25 billion in disaster money won’t last very long.
“His response was that these funds will last until the end of this month,” Hastings said.