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House passes $7.9B Harvey disaster aid package

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Latest on Congress (all times local):

12:13 p.m.

The House has passed a $7.9 billion Harvey aid package. Republicans and Democrats united behind help for victims of that storm even as while an ever more powerful new hurricane bore down on Florida.

The 419 to 3 vote Wednesday sent the aid package - likely the first of several - to the Senate in hopes of sending the bill to President Donald Trump before dwindling disaster reserves run out at the end of this week.

Texas Rep. John Culberson, whose Houston district was slammed by Harvey, promised that "help is on the way."

Senate Republicans hope to add an increase to the government's borrowing limit, but Democrats announced Wednesday that they only support a short-term increase.

Some New York Democrats reminded Texas Republicans of their votes opposing Superstorm Sandy aid five years ago.

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11:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump is meeting with congressional leaders at the White House, and he's noting they have a full plate of issues, and he's hoping "we can solve them in a rational way."

One immediate matter is Harvey aid, and the House is expected to vote on an initial $7.9 billion package.

Trump says the country has "a lot of great assets and we have some liabilities that we have to work out so we'll see if we can do that."

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10:35 a.m.

House Speaker Paul Ryan is rejecting a Democratic idea to tie Harvey aid to a three-month increase in the debt limit.

The Wisconsin Republican told reporters it was a "ridiculous idea" and said this was no time to play politics with the debt ceiling as Texas recovers from the devastation of Harvey and Hurricane Irma bears down on Florida.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said they would back the Harvey aid if it is linked to a three-month debt increase, not the longer term debt hike that Republicans are seeking. Senate Republicans want to link Harvey aid to debt limit increase into 2019 after the midterm elections.

The House is expected to move swiftly on the $7.9 billion package.

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9:55 a.m.

Capitol Hill's top Democrats say they're willing to pair a short-term increase in the government's borrowing cap with the Harvey aid bill.

Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York say a three-month increase in the debt limit would help ensure that Congress would tackle health care, immigration and looming budget cuts.

GOP leaders have indicated they want to link a $7.9 billion initial installment of disaster aid with a debt limit increase - allowing the government to borrow freely again to cover its bills.

The move by Pelosi and Schumer appears aimed at preserving Democratic leverage as Congress confronts a weighty fall agenda.

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4 a.m.

The House is trying to act quickly to pass President Donald Trump's request for a $7.9 billion first installment of Harvey relief.

GOP leaders also hope to use the aid bill to increase the U.S. debt limit to permit the government to borrow freely again to cover its bills.

The government's response to Harvey is draining existing disaster reserves, with Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster accounts hovering at $1 billion or less. FEMA is warning lawmakers that disaster funds run out on Friday, even as a Hurricane Irma is bearing down.

This week's measure is to handle the immediate emergency needs and replenish reserves in advance of Irma. Much more will be needed.

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