LATEST (2:48 pm ET):
BREAKING: Senate passes $15.3B Harvey aid package; extends US borrowing authority, prevents government shutdown next month.— The Associated Press (@AP) September 7, 2017
Senate kills Sasse plan to strip debt limit/CR out of Harvey plan. 72 to 25 on motion to table or set aside— Chad Pergram (@ChadPergram) September 7, 2017
On Thursday, Republican Senator Ben Sasse's (R-NE) office put out a press release stating that the Senator will be filing an amendment to reject the proposed fiscal deal made by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and President Trump. The deal attempts to tie relief funds for those affected by Hurricane Harvey to increasing the nation's debt limit. While the Senate forces a debate and shows that it will struggle to pass the funds, the funds passed the House by a vote of 419-3. Sen. Sasse did not mince words as he went after Sen. Schumer for playing politics with much-needed aid:
"Yesterday we saw Washington’s swamp continue to rise: Chuck Schumer wrote the art of the steal by taking hurricane relief hostage to guarantee a December showdown that favors Democratic spending priorities. Republicans should reject Schumer’s deal and instead pass the same clean aid package for Harvey victims that the House passed yesterday. My legislation would let Congress send a disaster relief bill to the President’s desk so we can help Americans in need right now and then get to work tackling the disorder in our fiscal house."
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) was not happy when he heard the Democratic leadership's plan either:
"I think that's a ridiculous idea. We've got all this devastation in Texas, a Hurricane in Florida, and they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? I think that's ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics with the debt ceiling."
Areas hit by Hurricane Harvey are still reeling from the historic storm and need all the resources and funding they can get. While the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey will take months to recover from (some estimates have total damages reaching $180 billion), holding relief funds from business owners and families who need it most simply to score political points and further a political agenda is appalling. With the House passing relief funds in a bipartisan manner, there is no reason why the Senate cannot pass the same bill in short order.
Some members of the House expected Senate Democrats to tie the funds to the debt-ceiling. If the relief funding makes it through the Senate and goes back to the House with the debt ceiling attached, House members expect that the amended bill will once again pass with bipartisan support. Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX) said, "I think most people are going to just hold their nose and accept that... We’re not going to play politics with people’s lives. We’re going to get them the money."
However, the Senate needs to act quickly as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is rapidly going through its funds. According to Business Insider, only $541 billion, just over half of FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund, was available to help those affected.
With Hurricane Irma bearing down on Florida and set to hit further up the East Coast potentially, Congress needs to be prepared to work together to get the necessary funds for victims of Hurricane Harvey as well as for potential victims of Hurricane Irma. Now is not the time for members of Congress to play politics.