Battle looms over tying Harvey aid funding to debt limit increase
President Trump is considering a plan to tie $5.5 billion in aid to victims of hurricane Harvey to raising the debt ceiling. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says the ceiling on the debt may have to be raised sooner than September 30 due to the emergency funding needed to send immediate aid to Harvey victims.
Trump's plan would make passage of a debt limit increase virtually certain, although some Republicans are balking at the idea.
The chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus says aid for victims of Hurricane Harvey should not be part of a vehicle to raise the debt ceiling.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), an ally of President Trump who leads the conservative caucus, said disaster aid should pass on its own, apart from separate measures the government must pick up in September to raise the nation's borrowing limit and fund the government.
"The Harvey relief would pass on its own, and to use that as a vehicle to get people to vote for a debt ceiling is not appropriate," he said an interview with The Washington Post, signaling agreement with Trump on the approach.
It would "send the wrong message" to add $15 to $20 billion of spending while increasing the debt ceiling, Meadows added.
Talk of combining legislation to fund the government and raise the debt ceiling picked up after it became obvious that Congress would need to take action to help communities stricken by Harvey's rainfall. Much of the Houston area remains under water nearly a week after the storm hit.
Congress faces end-of-month deadlines to prevent a government shutdown and raise the debt ceiling. Lumping the two measures together and then adding Harvey aid to the larger package would make it difficult for members to vote against it.
The Freedom Caucus has enough members to block legislation from passing the House if Democrats also vote against a package.
The problem for Republicans is that FEMA needs that infusion of cash almost immediately. The disaster relief agency is running out of money and won't be able to operate much beyond the end of next week.
Trump would prefer a clean debt limit bill, but some Republicans are gearing up to force spending cuts that will be tied to raising the debt ceiling. That's why combining a must-pass piece of legislation with raising the debt limit might be a viable option.
Frankly, if those Republicans want spending cuts, why did they vote to appropriate the money in the first place? Congress has already voted on a budget with a deficit of more than $500 billion. Trying to hold the good faith and credit of the United States hostage because of political posturing over raising the limit on deficit spending already voted for doesn't make any sense.
That $5.5 billion in Harvey relief funding is only the tip of the iceberg. Hurricane relief will probably end up setting a record for a single natural disaster. But the immediate need is so severe that getting that initial aid package through Congress has to be a top priority of both Republicans on the Hill and the White House.