House passes $7.9 billion Harvey aid bill

The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly passed $7.9 billion in disaster relief as warring united behind help for victims of that storm as an ever more powerful new hurricane bore down on Florida.

The 419-3 vote sent the aid package — likely the first of several — to the Senate in hopes of sending the bill to before dwindling federal disaster reserves run out at the end of this week.

“Help is on the way,” said , whose was slammed by the storm. “The scale of the tragedy is unimaginable. But in the midst of all this, and all the suffering, it really reflects the American character, how people from all over the country stepped up to help Houstonians recover from this.”

The first installment in Harvey aid is to handle the immediate emergency needs and replenish reserves in advance of Hurricane Irma, which is barreling through the Caribbean toward Florida.

“This is a chance to be your brother’s keeper,” said Houston Democratic Rep. Al Green. “This is chance for the unity that we express when we’re before the cameras to manifest itself in the votes that we cast here in Congress.”

Far more money will be needed once more complete estimates are in this fall, and Harvey could end up exceeding the $110 billion government cost of Hurricane Katrina.

Politics quickly intruded as Democratic leaders insisted they would back the measure in the Senate only if it were linked to a short-term increase in the nation’s borrowing limit, not the longer-term hike that Republicans and the Trump administration want.

And some Democrats from the New York delegation reminded Texas Republicans that they opposed a larger aid bill for those harmed by Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast five years ago.

In the Senate, GOP leaders want to link a long-term increase in the debt limit — until 2019 — to the Harvey aid, but that plan faces opposition from conservatives and thus will need Democratic votes.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York want to retain Democratic influence and trying to ensure the Republican-controlled Congress addresses health care and immigration as the hectic fall agenda kicks off.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said again Wednesday that increased Harvey costs show the importance of acting swiftly to increase the government’s debt cap to make sure there’s enough borrowed cash to pay out the surge in disaster aid.

Analysts at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a Washington think tank, say Harvey aid wouldn’t cause a cash crunch for weeks.(AP)