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Senate approves Hurricane Harvey aid and stop-gap funding package to avoid shutdown, raise debt limit

The Senate overwhelmingly approved disaster aid Thursday for Hurricane Harvey as part of a stopgap package President Trump negotiated with Democrats to fund the government and raise the nation's debt limit, days before the Federal Emergency Management Agency was expected to run out of money.

Senate passage, by an 80-17 vote, sends the measure to the House, where swift approval is expected Friday, staving off a looming fiscal crisis at month's end. Most Democrats voted in favor, with the no votes coming from Republicans.

The agreement, which drew protests from conservatives who were largely cut out of the deal, signals Trump's willingness to leave fellow Republicans behind. In siding with Democrats during a meeting Wednesday at the White House, Trump not only quickly dispensed with weeks of wrangling, he cracked open a strategy that could develop other deals, particularly on immigration to protect young "Dreamers" from deportations, a priority for both the president and many in Congress.

"Let's hope this is a sign of something to come," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. "What I do know is that the world we live in is a giant kaleidoscope. ... Everybody you work with is a resource to you, or can be."

Conservatives and other rank-and-file Republicans were fuming that House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell failed to negotiate their party's priorities, including spending cuts. Republicans complained that a short-term deal gives leverage to Democrats for the next round of talks, when the deal expires in December, and forces lawmakers to take another politically difficult vote on the debt limit.

"I will tell you that I gasped when I heard it," Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a Trump ally, told reporters on Air Force One as the president visited his state Wednesday.

"In fact, I sought clarification when the president told us before the flight. I sought clarification to make sure I understood," Cramer said. "Voting to raise the debt ceiling more than once in an election cycle is too many, and once is about one too many."

The deal provides of more than $15 billion in disaster-related aid, replenishing $7.4 billion for FEMA accounts that are being drawn down at a rapid rate to cover the aftermath of Harvey, which devastated Texas and parts of Louisiana. It includes $7.4 billion for community block grants and $450 million for Small Business Administration loans as part of the recovery.

To ensure aid money could flow, Congress needed to allow continued borrowing beyond the current debt limit, which Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin warned would be hit sooner than initially expected because of the storm costs.

Sept. 30 is also the end of the fiscal year, when Congress needs to fund the government to prevent a federal shutdown, and the confluence of deadlines was creating a potential crisis.

The deal provides continued funding and pushes the debt limit to December, when Congress again will face a deadline, and a potential crisis, ahead of the Christmas holiday break.

12:30 p.m. Updated with more details about the disaster aid.

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