President Donald Trump ignored seething Republicans and made good on his deal with Democrats, signing legislation that links $15.3 billion in disaster aid to an increase in the U.S. borrowing limit.
The law is a first installment in replenishing depleted federal emergency coffers. Trump signed it Friday as Hurricane Irma approached Florida and as Texas picks up the pieces after the devastation of Harvey. All 90 votes in opposition were cast by Republicans, some of whom hissed and booed administration officials who went to Capitol Hill to defend the package.
Conservative Republicans were upset that Trump cut the disaster-and-debt deal with Democratic leaders with no offsetting budget cuts.
“You can't just keep borrowing money,” said Republican Congressman Jeff Duncan of South Carolina. “We're going to be $22 trillion in debt.”
The aid measure, which passed the House on a vote of 316-90, was the first injection of emergency money that could rival or exceed the $110 billion federal response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, though future aid packages may be more difficult to pass. The legislation also finances the government through December 8.
In a closed-door meeting before the vote, more than a dozen Republicans stood up and complained about Trump cutting a deal with Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi instead of GOP leaders trying to deliver on the president's agenda.
Budget chief Mick Mulvaney, a former tea party congressman from South Carolina who took a hard line against debt increases during his House tenure, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin faced a rough time in pleading for votes.
Mnuchin elicited hisses when he told the meeting of House Republicans “vote for the debt ceiling for me,” said Congressman Mark Walker, a North Carolina Republican.
Republicans were in disbelief after Mnuchin argued that the debt ceiling shouldn't be a political issue in the future, said Congressman Mark Sanford, a Republican from South Carolina.
Congressman Ryan Costello, a Pennsylvania Republican, described a surreal scene with Mnuchin, a former Democratic donor, and Mulvaney, who almost certainly would have opposed the very measure he was sent to pitch, pressing Republicans to rally around the legislation.
“It's kind of like `Where am I? What's going on here?'” Costello said. “If it wasn't so serious it kind of would have been funny.”
Mulvaney was booed when he stepped to the microphone, though lawmakers said it was good-natured. He defended the deal and Trump.
“It was absolutely the right thing to do,” Mulvaney told reporters after the meeting. “The president is a results-driven person, and right now he wants to see results on Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and tax reform. He saw an opportunity to work with Democrats on this particular issue at this particular time.”
But Mulvaney further upset Republicans when he wouldn't promise spending cuts as part of a future debt limit vote.
Trump on Wednesday had cut a deal with Schumer and Pelosi to increase the debt limit for three months, rather than the long-term approach preferred by Republican leaders that would have resolved the issue through next year's midterms.
Conservatives disliked both options. Voting on the debt limit is politically toxic for Republicans, and the deal will make the GOP vote twice before next year's midterm elections.
Fiscal conservatives have clamored for deep cuts in spending in exchange for any increase in the government's borrowing authority. The storm relief measure had widespread support, but the linkage with the debt ceiling left many Republicans frustrated.
“Are we doing anything on fiscal sanity? No,” said tea party Congressman Dave Brat, a Virgina Republican. “And so Mick (Mulvaney) came over today, the treasury secretary came over today, and we said, `Do you have a plan for fiscal sanity going forward?' No. Crickets. So that's the frustration.”
Democratic votes are invariably needed to increase the debt limit - and avert a potential market-quaking default on government obligations - and Schumer and Pelosi successfully pressed to waive the debt limit through December 8. Democrats are cautious about working with Trump, but hold out hope for legislation on the budget, health care, and shielding young immigrants brought to this country illegally from deportation.
Moderate Republican Congressman Peter King from New York, said he's been encouraging Trump to find ways to work with Democrats. King attended a meeting in the White House on Thursday with lawmakers when the president asked him “how did I feel the bipartisan deal was going. Did I think it was good?’ I said, ’Absolutely, we need more of it.’ I said, `You and Chuck. The two of you in the room. We can make some good deals.’”