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US House of Representatives approves Harvey emergency relief

US House of Representatives approves Harvey emergency relief
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The US House of Representatives, on Wednesday, approved US$7.85-billion in emergency aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey.

Lawmakers in the lower house of Congress voted 419-3 in favour of releasing the funds, which will mostly go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The House also approved US$450 million in disaster loans to help small businesses get back on their feet.

The Senate is due to hold its own vote in coming days.

The funds will “allow FEMA to continue response and recovery efforts, including life-saving missions, while also ensuring the agency has resources available should another emergency arise,” said Republican Rodney Frelinghuysen, head of the House Appropriations Committee.

“In the wake of this disaster, our nation has come together,” added House Majority leader Kevin McCarthy.

The “no” votes were from conservative Republicans who wanted to see the expense offset with other budget cuts.

The funds, however, are only a down payment on the total cost of the disaster, which experts say could surpass US$150 billion.

The US Senate will vote on the measure in the next days, and may link the aid to increasing the ceiling on the national debt.

Congress is bitterly split between President Donald Trump’s Republicans and opposition Democrats.

Republican Senate leaders are also trying to exploit the spirit of unity by attaching to the aid bill a much more controversial measure: raising the US national debt ceiling.

In the United States, Congress sets the maximum level of federal government debt, currently US$19.9 trillion.

The Treasury needs the debt limit raised in the coming weeks in order to continue borrowing on the financial markets to pay bills, including interest on debt, and avoid default.

Conservative Republican Senator Rand Paul said he is prepared to fight the White House and fellow Republicans over linking a debt limit increase to Harvey aid. “I’ll do anything to try to stop that,” he told newsmen.

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