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WV congressional delegation split on debt ceiling, Harvey aid vote

West Virginia’s congressional delegation split on a vote to temporarily suspend the debt ceiling and send more than $15 billion to states afflicted by Hurricane Harvey.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., both voted for the package, which passed in an 80-17 vote Thursday.

However, Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., was the only House member to join them.

Reps. Evan Jenkins and Alex Mooney, both Republicans, voted against the measure Friday, which passed in a 316-90 vote.

In both chambers, only Republicans voted against the bill.

President Donald Trump signed the bill, which in addition to providing aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey will extend America’s borrowing authority and funds the government through Dec. 8. The measure also will replenish depleted emergency accounts as Florida braces for Hurricane Irma and Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey.

The debt ceiling is essentially a borrowing limit for the country. When the new suspension deadline comes in December, Congress will have to either re-suspend the ceiling, raise it, or face defaulting on its debts and suffering a downgrading of the nation’s credit.

In a statement released shortly after the vote, Mooney said he voted against the bill because he opposes increases in the debt ceiling.

“I voted against raising the debt limit because our national debt is already too high,” he said. “West Virginian families have to balance their budgets each month and the federal government should do the same.”

A spokeswoman for Jenkins said he voted against the bill because of the debt ceiling inclusion to the relief package.

“Earlier this week, I voted to provide emergency funds for Hurricane Harvey victims,” Jenkins said in an emailed statement, referring to an earlier version of the relief bill that did not include the debt ceiling suspension. “Unfortunately, this important funding was packaged with an increase in our debt limit — all while our national debt hits a record $20 trillion. As a fiscal conservative and father of three, I cannot support burdening our children with yet more wasteful spending and debt. We need to be enacting spending reforms and cuts, and an increase in the debt limit without these cuts is simply unacceptable.”

According to data retrieved Friday from the U.S. Debt Clock, which pulls real-time data from the U.S. Treasury, the U.S. owes $19.98 trillion.

It wasn’t just outsiders who voted against the relief package. As the Dallas Morning News reported, four Texas Republicans — Reps. Joe Barton, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry — all voted no as well.

While Jenkins and Mooney drew a line in the fiscal sand, Capito, Manchin and McKinley all let their reservations about debt go when measured against the natural disaster.

Capito said while she would have preferred Trump to negotiate a longer stopgap measure, she respected that his deal-making provided immediate relief to those who needed it, and bought time to work out relevant issues like reining in government spending, reshaping the tax code and resetting the debt ceiling.

“I just felt like the president had negotiated this deal and I was supporting the president’s initiative here,” she said. “I think it was a really prudent thing for us to do, particularly at this time of a lot of tragedy for a lot of people”

According to a New York Times report, Trump organized the debt ceiling and relief package deal with Democratic leadership, much to the ire of Republican command.

Manchin said while he did not vote to lift the debt ceiling lightly, he couldn’t turn his back on those who felt the worst of the hurricane’s wrath, especially given West Virginia’s flood devastation in 2016.

“I’ve always had a hard time ever voting for raising the debt ceiling without meaningful tax reform, but when it was coupled with relief for people who have been absolutely destroyed, or lost a loved one in this, or lost everything they’ve ever had, a lifetime of their earning, we had to,” he said. “We had no alternative, it had to be done.”

McKinley, in a written statement through a spokesman, said while Congress needs to address an underlying problem of a growing deficit, hurricane victims should not be party to the political fight.

“With the Gulf Coast reeling from Hurricane Harvey and another major hurricane bearing down on the Southeast, now is not the time for brinkmanship in Washington,” he said. “Without action, FEMA would have run out of money for disaster relief today. The Senate voted and left town yesterday, so the House had no choice but to take or leave the package. Providing much-needed relief for Texas and Florida is the responsible thing to do.”

Reach Jake Zuckerman at jake.zuckerman@wvgazettemail.com, 304-348-4814 or follow @jake_zuckerman on Twitter.

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