Arab Today, arab today us house of representatives approves
Last Updated : GMT 18:19:24
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Harvey emergency relief

US House of Representatives approves

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today US House of Representatives approves

Rescue crews save residents from Hurricane Harvey floodwaters in Port Arthur
Washington - Arabs Today

The US House of Representatives Wednesday approved in a nearly unanimous vote $7.85-billion in emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey, a rare show of unity by the bitterly divided chamber.

Lawmakers in the lower house of Congress voted 419-3 in favor of releasing the funds, which will mostly go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The House also approved $450 million in disaster loans to help small businesses get back on their feet.

The Senate is due to hold its own vote in coming days.

The funds will "allow FEMA to continue response and recovery efforts, including life-saving missions, while also ensuring the agency has resources available should another emergency arise," said Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, head of the House Appropriations Committee.

"In the wake of this disaster, our nation has come together," added House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy.

The "no" votes were from conservative Republicans who wanted to see the expense offset with other budget cuts.

The funds, however, are only a down payment on the total cost of the disaster, which experts say could surpass $150 billion.

The US Senate will vote on the measure in the next days, and may link the aid to increasing the ceiling on the national debt.

- Harvey scrambles Washington politics -

Congress is bitterly split between President Donald Trump's Republicans and opposition Democrats.

However the effects of Harvey -- a massive Category Five hurricane when it struck the US Gulf Coast of Texas on August 25 -- has upended politics as usual in Washington.

Harvey lingered more than a week, losing strength but dumping massive amounts rain and causing historic flooding, and leaving tens of thousands homeless especially in the Houston area.

"When you turn on the TV in America today, you look at all the vitriol, you look at the bitterness ... you begin to wonder whether or not our civil society is holding together. This hurricane shows that it is," House Speaker Paul Ryan said just ahead of the vote.

"The government will be there to respond to the needs of the people," he said.

This attitude stands in sharp contrast with the debates that came after Hurricane Sandy struck the northeastern United States in 2012.

The northeast is predominantly Democratic -- unlike Texas and most of the southern US, which is mostly conservative and Republican.

In 2012 conservative Republican lawmakers refused to authorize funds for Sandy recovery that was not offset by budget cuts elsewhere. The aid was finally approved with support from Democrats.

- Debt ceiling battle looms -

Republican Senate leaders are also trying to exploit the spirit of unity by attaching to the aid bill a much more controversial measure: raising the US national debt ceiling.

In the United States, Congress sets the maximum level of federal government debt, currently $19.9 trillion.

The Treasury needs the debt limit raised in the coming weeks in order to continue borrowing on the financial markets to pay bills, including interest on debt, and avoid default.

Having failed to pass a top-priority healthcare reform or begin on tax reform since Trump took office in January, the Republican majority faces an end-September deadline for raising the debt ceiling and passing a spending bill for the fiscal year beginning October 1.

Despite their majority in both chambers of Congress, the Republicans are torn from within between moderate and conservative factions, and constantly at odds with the opposition Democrats.

Conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul said he is prepared to fight the White House and fellow Republicans over linking a debt limit increase to Harvey aid.

"I'll do anything to try to stop that," he told CNN on Wednesday.

Source: AFP

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