Senate Attaches Shutdown-Avoiding Measure to Harvey Relief Bill

President Trump meets with congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday. Trump sided with Democrats' plan for a three-month spending and debt limit extension. President Trump meets with congressional leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (center) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday. Trump sided with Democrats' plan for a three-month spending and debt limit extension. Evan Vucci/AP

Senators voted Thursday to approve a three-month extension to the debt limit and governmental spending, and they significantly increased a package for hurricane relief.

The plan to keep the government open and out of default would set a new deadline of Dec. 8 for Congress to approve fiscal 2018 appropriations and raise the debt ceiling. It also would nearly double the relief package approved by the House Wednesday for hurricane response efforts, bringing the total to $15.25 billion.

The bill was approved 80-17, with all dissenting votes coming from GOP senators. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., unsuccessfully sought to require the relief spending to be offset by corresponding cuts to foreign aid. And Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., introduced an amendment that would have removed the debt ceiling and continuing resolution from the plan, but it also failed.

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President Trump endorsed this plan, initially proposed by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, after meeting with congressional leaders Wednesday. GOP leaders had sought to authorize three months of government spending at current levels, but extend the debt ceiling until after the 2018 mid-term elections.

Although congressional Republicans were caught off guard by the president’s willingness to quickly endorse the Democrats’ counterproposal, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly indicated Wednesday he would go along with the plan.

The House is expected to vote on the Senate version of the bill Friday or Saturday. But some conservative groups are encouraging Republicans to vote against the measure.

The Republican Study Committee, which is made up of more than 150 House lawmakers, opposes the Trump-endorsed plan.

“While some have advocated for a ‘clean’ debt limit increase, this would simply increase the borrowing authority of the government while irresponsibly ignoring the urgency of reforms,” wrote Rep. Mark Walker, R-Ala., chairman of the group, in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan. “Worse yet is attaching the debt limit to legislation that continues the status quo or even worsens the trajectory on spending, such as the deal announced yesterday by the president and congressional leadership.”

FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group, labeled the plan as a “key vote” and urged lawmakers to oppose it.

“It’s disgusting that Senate Republican leadership is using this supplemental disaster relief bill as the vehicle to increase the debt limit,” President Adam Brandon said in a statement. “It also has the feeling of extortion, as Senate Republican leadership knows that this is a ‘must-pass’ bill.”

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