Harvey aid, debt on returning Congress' daunting to-do list

Harvey aid, debt on returning Congress' daunting to-do list”

The House will vote Wednesday to approve almost $8 billion in Hurricane Harvey relief funds, days after President Trump requested $7.85 billion from Congress in immediate supplemental aid. It will then head to the Senate, where GOP leaders are planning to tie the funding to a controversial must-pass measure to raise the debt ceiling to avoid a US government default.

"As we have stated for months, the debt ceiling should be paired with significant fiscal and structural reforms", Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker of North Carolina said in a statement.

They expect that the Senate - after the House votes Wednesday - will take the Harvey funding bill and tack on a provision to avoid a default, and when it is sent over to the House it could pass with mostly Democratic votes.

While Republican leaders haven't said how long they plan to extend the debt limit, it was expected that it would be longer than three months.

Linking the two issues could make it politically hard for lawmakers to oppose the debt-limit bill.

In the Senate, Republican leaders want to link a long-term increase in the debt limit - until 2019 - to the Harvey aid, but that plan faces opposition from conservatives and thus will need Democratic votes.

Lawmakers returned to Washington Tuesday facing fast-approaching deadlines, including pressing demands to replenish dwindling disaster aid reserves as Texas and Louisiana dig out from Harvey and an even more powerful hurricane, Irma, bears down on the U.S.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) is suggesting that raising the debt ceiling and linking it to Harvey relief will echo President Trump's priorities of preventing a default and helping those in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, while preventing a government shutdown.

Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, said he wouldn't be opposed to combining the two measures and said the urgency of Harvey disaster relief provides "another reason as to why you want to keep the government open".

But he didn't signal whether the debt-ceiling vote and Harvey aid would be linked. An additional $6.7 billion in FEMA funding is to be provided through the stopgap spending bill and another infusion of aid is likely later in the year, according to House aides.

The debt ceiling caps how much money the USA government can borrow, and some conservatives are loath to raise it without spending reforms.

The bigger debates could be even more volatile. That decision surprised some returning House members Tuesday, who say it could upset an otherwise unusual moment of unity to help Houston.

McIntosh's statement was a reference to comments Mnuchin made over the weekend, saying that in order to pay for hurricane relief, Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling. "I continue to be anxious about the debt, but I don't think this is the time to have that debate".

House conservatives have been critical of tying the two measures to each other and voting on the debt ceiling without corresponding spending cuts. "Basically every Republican senator is looking to put whatever nonsense happened on Twitter in August in the rear view mirror and focus on all the important work that needs to get done in September", said Josh Holmes, a former chief of staff and campaign manager for McConnell.

"I think it's a bad idea", said House Freedom Caucus Chair Mark Meadows, who conceded that conservatives were getting outmanoeuvred.

The House majority leader also said that, despite the busy schedule, the GOP still intends to pass a budget this month, because "it allows us to go to reconciliation to start tax reform".

Senate leaders insisted both moves are immediately necessary for the recovery effort, since an increase in the debt ceiling is needed by the end of the month. But several leading Republicans on the right of the House GOP conference are loudly complaining about the expected strategy to tie the increase to the debt limit to the disaster relief legislation.

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