With only a few days left before the Federal Emergency Management Agency runs out of disaster relief funds, the U.S. Senate approved $15.25 billion in funding for those affected by Hurricane Harvey today. Eighty senators voted for the legislation, even though GOP lawmakers were said to be "furious" when President Donald Trump agreed yesterday to a Democratic proposal linking Harvey aid to a short-term debt ceiling hike and language to fund the federal government through December 8.
Iowa's Senators Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst were among the seventeen Republican senators who voted against today's bill (roll call). In a statement enclosed in full below, Ernst said she supported a "clean" Hurricane Harvey relief bill, like the one U.S. House members approved on September 6 by 419 votes to 3. All four Iowans supported that bill: Republicans Rod Blum (IA-01), David Young (IA-03), and Steve King (IA-04), and Democrat Dave Loebsack (IA-02).
Carefully avoiding direct criticism of Trump, Ernst added in her statement, "Unfortunately a final deal was cut and while it includes initial relief funding, it also raises the debt limit and kicks the can down the road once again on our overall government spending levels. This is not the right way to legislate, and quite frankly, it is exactly what the American people are sick and tired of."
I assume Grassley opposed the Harvey aid bill for similar reasons. At this writing, his office has not released a statement; I will update this post as needed with any public comment.
The Senate bill goes back to the House, where Democratic support is assured but a large number of Republicans will bolt over the debt ceiling hike and short-term spending resolution. I'll be surprised if King or Blum votes for the bill; Young could go either way. UPDATE: All four Iowans voted for the revised bill in the U.S. House. I posted statements from King and Blum here.
Senator Joni Ernst press release, September 7:
Ernst Supports Relief for Hurricane Harvey Victims, Votes No on Debt Limit Increase
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) released the following statement after voting in favor of relief funding for victims of Hurricane Harvey, but against raising the debt limit:
“This week, I stated that the Senate should take up the House’s clean bill to make sure the victims of Hurricane Harvey receive the assistance they need, and today I supported a measure that would do exactly that.
“Unfortunately a final deal was cut and while it includes initial relief funding, it also raises the debt limit and kicks the can down the road once again on our overall government spending levels. This is not the right way to legislate, and quite frankly, it is exactly what the American people are sick and tired of. I called for the August state work period to be canceled so that we could address issues such as the debt limit and our annual spending bills. Instead, Congress went home for several weeks when we should have been in Washington working to find solutions to many of these issues.
“Washington continues to raise the debt limit without addressing the spending problems, implementing spending reforms, or working toward a balanced budget. We must get back to regular order when it comes to the debt limit and the continuing resolution (CR), rather than using this disaster to cut backroom deals. That is unacceptable.
“The White House and this Congress must do better for the American people. I cannot support these efforts to raise the debt limit while failing to put into place any spending constraints or a clear path forward to get our debt under control.
“We are nearly $20 trillion in debt, and today Washington is showing little regard toward getting serious about cutting spending. All across Iowa, I hear from folks who have said enough is enough when it comes to our debt, and that we simply can’t continue spending money that we don’t have. I agree. Therefore, while I supported a standalone vote on Hurricane Harvey disaster relief funding, I cannot support a bloated overall deal that hands Washington another credit card without a limit and avoids the thoughtful legislating the American people expect from Congress.
“Yesterday, I called for the October state work period to be canceled, and after today’s disappointing outcome, I hope my colleagues will be willing to get to work on the incredible number of items at hand this fall.”
Senator Ernst supported an effort by Senator Sasse which would allow the Senate to pass funding for the victims of Hurricane Harvey as a standalone bill, without the debt limit or CR attached to it.
Senator Ernst voted against final passage of the bill which included increasing the debt limit and the CR.