WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump signed into law on Friday a bill with $15 billion Hurricane Harvey disaster aid and provisions to raise federal debt limits and keep government running until Dec. 8, with only Republicans — including three from Illinois — objecting to the measure.
The legislation passed only because all the House Democrats who voted were a “yes,” — the result of a very good deal Senate and House Democratic Leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi made with Trump. The key was a three-month debt limit provision, rather than one for a longer period.
The bill dashed through the House Friday on a 316-90 roll call, with 133 Republicans and 183 Democrats voting yes. Voting “no” were 90 Republicans, including Illinois House members Peter Roskam, Randy Hultgren and Darin LaHood.
On Thursday the measure sprinted through the Senate 80-17, with Republicans again the only “no” votes. Earlier this week, a stand-alone disaster aid measure sailed through the House on a 419-3 vote, advancing to the Senate where it was all but certain to be amended with other provisions.
That’s the reality of how Congress works.
House and Senate leaders — of both parties — rarely allow up-or-down votes on anything when they are in power.
This all happened in the same week Trump yanked Obama–era protections for Dreamers, involuntary illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., voted yes for the Trump/Schumer/Pelosi deal though he was angry at his Democratic leaders for essentially agreeing to wait three more months – until they have leverage again — to demand passage of a Dreamer measure.
If passing single-subject legislation were the norm, a bill saving Dreamers likely would pass. But bills get loaded with other stuff – so lawmakers have to make a call whether, on the whole, a given measure is worthwhile even if there are provisions in it they can’t stomach.
That is the governing reality. That’s why some votes are tough.
Before looking at the “no” votes from Roskam, Hultgren and LaHood, consider the deal Trump struck with the Democratic leaders. There is a lot of speculation in this town whether:
- Trump was just sticking it to the Republican leaders — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan — because he’s annoyed with them.
- Trump is flirting with the leaders he calls “Chuck and Nancy” with this across-the-aisle move to show he is open to situational alliances – putting the GOP on notice.
- Trump really is intending to dilute GOP leverage by putting this three-month debt limit leash around the Republican leaders’ necks.
Now, Roskam, Hultgren and LaHood did all issue statements noting that they voted for the stand-alone Harvey bill. But that wasn’t the measure that counted. The bill they rejected was the one Trump signed into law.
Roskam said: “I wholeheartedly support the hurricane relief provisions, which is why I voted for the standalone relief package earlier this week, but I voted against the legislation today that included a debt limit increase because it does not provide needed reforms.”
Hultgren said: “I was extremely disappointed when the Senate loaded the House-passed disaster relief package and sent it back to us with extraneous provisions, such as an extension of the debt limit and circumventing regular order of the appropriations process.”
And LaHood: “Seeing politics being played with this aid package is incredibly disappointing, and is the reason I was unable to vote for the package today. An aid package for the victims of Hurricane Harvey should be just that.”
Rachel Irwin, the spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the House political shop, pounced on Roskam and Hultgren. She said in a statement not helping Harvey victims “would be reckless and cruel on its own, but the fact that it was also a vote for a government shutdown and defaulting on America’s debt gives new meaning to the word irresponsible.”
What’s responsible is not to hide behind unrealistic demands for stand-alone votes that rarely happen.