The devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey may actually make passing spending bills easier
Republicans also must reach agreement soon on a budget blueprint
Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Tuesday with little time to tackle big-ticket items to avoid a government shutdown and raise the nation’s debt limit.
But the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey may actually make it easier to get the bitterly divided Congress to get on the same page to address fiscal challenges, especially when they are likely tied to disaster relief for millions of victims.
Republicans also must reach agreement soon on a budget blueprint for next year if they want to use special rules to avoid a Democratic filibuster of a major tax overhaul, the GOP’s biggest goal for the remainder of the year. They also hope to create a tax code with fewer loopholes and deductions as well as lower corporate and individual rates – no easy task.
GOP lawmakers are still reeling since the Obamacare vote before the August recess. In returning to Washington they will confront an increasingly tense relationship with President Donald Trump, who lashed out at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans over the break. The rift has soured an already uneasy alliance and possibly made it harder for Congress and the White House to find common ground on the jammed fall agenda.
The Trump administration sent Congress Friday a request for $7.85 billion in new money to support disaster response efforts for Hurricane Harvey and House Republicans are expected to schedule a vote on Wednesday, congressional sources told CNN.
The ultimate price tag for the massive recovery and rebuilding effort is expected to be well more than $100 billion, and by far the largest relief effort taken up by Congress.
“The number is going to be big,” Texas GOP Rep. Will Hurd said on CNN last week. But Hurd noted the immediate priority is to get the Federal Emergency Management Agency another infusion of cash in its emergency response account before the broader package can be drafted later in September.
So far there has been bipartisan support to get those affected by Harvey all the help they need.
In recent debates over disaster aid some conservatives, including then GOP congressman and current Vice President Mike Pence, have insisted that disaster relief must be offset with spending cuts elsewhere. It’s unclear whether there will be a significant bloc demanding any reductions to cover some of the aid, but notably House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, a leading conservative, has already stated he won’t make that demand.
Spending and debt limit
The addition of a disaster relief package could actually make getting other complicated items – a spending bill to avoid a shutdown and a measure to raise the debt limit – through this fall. Before the devastating storm wreaked havoc across southeast Texas and parts of Louisiana, top Republican leaders were searching for a strategy to thread the needle on those issues, which regularly cause internal splits and headaches.
Many conservatives have demanded that any legislation to increase the debt limit be accompanied by spending reforms. Pairing the Harvey relief package with a bill to increase the credit limit and potentially a longer-term spending deal through 2018 would put pressure on those on the right of the GOP conference.
Many of those who have opposed similar packages in the past, such as Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz, are the same ones who will be requesting massive federal assistance for their own constituents this fall.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Sunday that he and Trump would like to see Harvey funding tied with a debt ceiling bill.