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September 20, 2017

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Trump reaches deal with Democrats on hurricane aid, debt ceiling

WASHINGTON - US President Donald Trump reached an agreement with congressional Democrats on Wednesday that will avoid a damaging government default and provide funding for Hurricane Harvey aid.

"We agreed to a three-month extension on debt ceiling, which they consider to be sacred," Trump said after meeting with congressional leaders at the White House and siding with Democrats, who had sought to tie funding for the hurricane relief to other priorities.

In a twist in hyperpartisan Washington, Trump praised Democrats, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, while failing even to mention the Republicans, who also attended the talks.

The agreement between Trump and Democrats forces the hand of Senate Republicans, who agreed to go along with the plan, which will tie Harvey disaster relief to an increase in the debt ceiling and a short-term government funding bill that will last through December 15.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would present a measure based on Trump's plan, noting the president felt "we needed to come together to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis."

Republicans had been reluctant to tie the hurricane aid to the debt ceiling and had hoped to approve a longer term extension of the debt ceiling. The conservative party has in recent years been reluctant to approve debt ceiling increases without offsetting budget cuts.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan had said earlier Wednesday that such a move was "ridiculous and disgraceful."

The US House of Representatives on Wednesday approved an initial 7.85 billion dollars in aid to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Its aid package was not tied to the other measures.

The lower chamber of Congress approved the straight aid measure 419-3. Action now moves to the upper house, the Senate, where the aid will now be coupled with the debt and spending packages.

"Nothing can really capture just how big and wide this devastation is," Ryan said of the damage left by Harvey in Houston and other areas of south-eastern Texas.

"You hear a lot of numbers, tens of thousands of people in shelters, hundreds of thousands of homes damaged. Nothing can really capture this," Ryan said.

Harvey made landfall as a category 4 storm last month and dumped a record amount of rain that resulted in widespread flooding in Houston. The death toll from the storm has risen to at least 60.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott estimates the recovery could cost some 180 billion dollars.

US authorities are now preparing for a second major storm, Hurricane Irma, which is on track to hit Florida as early as Sunday.

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