WASHINGTON — In a bipartisan vote, the House on Friday overwhelmingly approved a $15.3 billion disaster aid package tied to a three-month extension of government funding and borrowing authority, despite objections by conservative Republicans.
Only Republicans voted no in the 316-90 vote to fund the mopping up and rebuilding in Texas and Louisiana after Harvey and to be ready for the what could be a devastating impact by Hurricane Irma on the East Coast and to keep the government open and avoid a default.
President Donald Trump signed the bill shortly after he arrived Friday afternoon at Camp David in Maryland, where he will hold a full cabinet meeting on Saturday and return to Washington on Sunday.
Many conservative Republicans said they could not support the package, created in a deal that Trump cut with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), stunning Republicans but passing in the Senate 80-17 Thursday.
Many Republicans voting no said they voted for Harvey disaster aid on Tuesday, but refused to approve tying the $15.3 billion funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, community development block grants and the Small Business Administration to extending federal funding for the government until Dec. 8.
In a caucus meeting before the vote, White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin urged House Republicans to vote for the package, but the vote displayed the split between ideologically conservative Republicans and the rest of the party.
The hard-right House Freedom Caucus rejected raising the debt ceiling as part of the package, demanded that the $15.3 billion be offset by cuts in other federal spending, and complained that Trump gave up leverage and created a showdown in December over the same vote.
Rep. Mark Walker (R-N.C.), chair of the conservative Republican Study Committee, said Mnuchin and Mulvaney had no answers to questions about what happens in December, as the debt ceiling and federal funding of the government come up for another vote.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) voted against the bill, and he criticized Trump for cutting the deal with Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “He could have gotten more accomplished, and I think he had more leverage than he recognized,” Zeldin said.
Zeldin said he opposed the short-term raising of the debt ceiling, short-term spending bills and the extension of the authority for the National Flood Insurance Program for another three months without implementing any changes to improve its operation.
But Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a more moderate Republican, voted yes and welcomed the bipartisan vote.
“I think it’s a good deal for the country. I think if we break loose from having a faction control us it’s really good for everybody,” he said, referring to the Freedom Caucus.
King said he is not worried about the looming Dec. 8 deadline. “If we continue to work across the aisle, we’ll get it done,” he said.
“Ronald Reagan worked with Tip O’Neill. Eisenhower worked with LBJ. You can’t just have one-party government,” said King, referring to two Republican presidents and Democratic congressional leaders in the 1980s and 1950s.
At the pre-vote Republican meeting, lawmakers reminded Mulvaney that when he was in the House, he had been one of the loudest voices against approving disaster aid for superstorm Sandy without spending cuts to pay for it and raising the debt ceiling.
“It did get little warm for Mulvaney at times,” Walker said.
King said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) had the best line during the meeting about how Mulvaney had changed his views as director of the Office of Management and Budget.
Issa said “he wishes there were 42 openings in OMB so they could send the Freedom Caucus people over there so they would say the same thing Mulvaney is saying now,” King said. “That’s how you get them to convert.”