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US Congress approves hurricane relief, debt ceiling hike

[WASHINGTON] The US House of Representatives passed a US$15 billion hurricane relief package Friday that included raising the debt ceiling and funding government until early December, sending the bill to President Donald Trump.

Lawmakers voted 316 to 90 to approve the package, which was the result of an agreement struck between Mr Trump and congressional Democrats in a hurried effort to free up emergency funding in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, and as a second monster storm bears down on Florida.

Some Republican conservatives had strongly objected to the deal because they wanted a stand-alone hurricane relief bill unconnected to efforts to raise the federal borrowing limit and keep the government open until December 8.

All 90 House members who opposed the measure were Republicans.

"The House just voted to send critical aid to the victims of #HurricaneHarvey. Next stop ? @POTUS," House Speaker Paul Ryan said in a tweet.

The Senate easily passed the measure on Thursday, 80 to 17.

If Mr Trump signs the bill, as expected, it would extend US borrowing authority, prevent a government shutdown and free up emergency relief funding just as Florida braces for a direct hit from Hurricane Irma.

Of the US$15.25 billion in relief funding, about half is designated for the Federal Emergency Management Administration's disaster relief fund.

FEMA has burned through much of its disaster funding, due to the scope of Harvey and technical advancements that allow the agency to distribute money more quickly than in previous disasters.