US approves billions more in hurricane aid

  • 09/09/2017
A message reading 'You Don't Scare Us Irma' is written on plywood being used to cover the windows of a building. Photo credit: Getty

US lawmakers have approved a bill extending the government debt limit for three months and providing about US$15 billion (AU$19 billion) in hurricane-related aid, delivering on President Donald Trump's surprising deal this week with Democratic congressional leaders.

The bill, approved in a 316-90 vote by the US House of Representatives, had ignited criticism of Mr Trump from some conservative members of congress. But it was passed by the Senate on Thursday and now goes to the Republican president, who is expected to sign it quickly.

Despite controversy, lawmakers had rushed to approve the legislation, which provides US$15.25 billion for emergency disaster aid, before government aid ran out at week's end as Americans deal with two deadly hurricanes including Irma, a potentially catastrophic storm poised to strike Florida on Sunday.

Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore on August 25 as the most powerful hurricane to hit Texas in more than 50 years, killed about 60 people, displaced more than a million and the state governor has said it caused up to US$180 billion in damage.

The bill raised questions about the relationship between Mr Trump, a political outsider who took office in January, and Republican Party regulars.

He has frequently criticised Senate leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan and his deal on Wednesday with Democratic congressional leaders Senator Chuck Schumer and Representative Nancy Pelosi was an especially troublesome shock for conservative members.

Conservatives' souring relations with the administration are likely to remain a factor as congress and the White House now face a December 8 deadline on the debt limit and government spending.

Asked about Mr Trump working so closely with Democrats on the legislation, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said: "I think that the president's focus was doing what was best for the American people. I think the last thing we want to do is play partisan politics when we have people in places like Texas and Louisiana that need financial support through the federal government."

Before the vote, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney had pleaded the White House's case to Republican lawmakers at a Friday morning meeting. It was not well received by some.

"There's a lot of disappointment in the decision the president made and the way our leadership was treated," said House Republican Representative Hal Rogers, describing a sense of "animosity" at the meeting. "That's a sore spot. It's not a happy camp."

"There was some hissing and I don't know if there was some booing but there were some groans," Republican Mark Walker said.

More moderate Republicans welcomed the bipartisan approach.