Trump Cuts Deal with Democrats on Hurricane Relief
WASHINGTON — Even as another hurricane bore down on the Caribbean heading toward Florida, Congress worked Wednesday to avert one disaster and respond to another, reaching a short-term agreement to put a down payment on Hurricane Harvey relief, prevent a government default and avoid a government shutdown until at least mid-December.
President Donald Trump reached an agreement with congressional Democrats despite the wishes of Republican leaders. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., had wanted to keep Harvey funding and the debt ceiling vote separate; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell wanted to link the two but extend the debt ceiling for 18 months.
In the end, Trump and Democratic leadership agreed to link Harvey funding with a short-term measure to increase the debt ceiling as well as one that would keep the government open through Dec. 15. Trump said the agreement also would include money for Hurricane Irma response.
The agreement, however, sets up another possible showdown over spending just before Christmas.
“We essentially came to a deal, and I think the deal will be very good,” Trump said aboard Air Force One after his earlier meeting with Democratic leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer. “We had a very, very cordial and professional meeting.”
Even as he made his remarks, the House was voting overwhelmingly to approve a straightforward disaster relief bill, which included $7.4 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund and $450 million for the Small Business Administration’s disaster loan program. The vote was 419-3, with all Ohioans backing it.
That measure is being pitched as a down payment on a disaster that could cost up to $190 billion — the most-expensive storm in history, according to AccuWeather.
And that’s not counting Irma, which AccuWeather is calling the strongest storm since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. The storm barreled through the Caribbean on Wednesday and could hit Florida this weekend.
Not everyone agrees with the idea of linking Harvey funding with the debt ceiling; Rep. Warren Davidson, R-Troy, said he opposes raising the limit without corresponding spending cuts.
Similarly, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, has called for linking a hike in the debt ceiling to corresponding spending cuts.
Others, however, eyeing the approach of Irma, avoided the fray, saying they were prepared to pay for what could be an extremely expensive hurricane season.
“It’s devastating to us,” said Rep. Joyce Beatty, D–Jefferson Township. “I think we have to be the America that we know and put financial support there.”
“It’s going to cost money, but when there’s a disaster, all levels of government have to be prepared to do what’s necessary to help people truly in need,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, R–Cincinnati. “And these people are truly in need.”
Dealing with two potentially devastating storms in a matter of days is rare but not unprecedented. In 2005, Hurricane Rita struck weeks after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. Some 1,800 died in the latter storm; an estimated 120 died during Rita.
Hurricane Wilma, which came in October of that year, took the lives of 22, according to Accuweather.com, but was considered the most-intense hurricane on record. In all, the 2005 season cost more than $143 billion; $108 billion for Katrina alone, according to NOAA.
David Letson, a professor of marine affairs at the University of Miami, said many of the resources that will be needed if Irma hits Florida are already deployed for Harvey.
But it could be worse.
“We’re a wealthy country with an advanced public health system,” he said. “So if we look at the way we deal with this as compared to nations in the Caribbean that will have to do it, we’re far better off.”