McConnell ponders combining Harvey, debt ceiling, government funding

07 September, 2017, 02:00 | Author: Malcolm Fuller
  • U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump help volunteers hand out meals during a visit with flood survivors of Hurricane Harvey at a relief center in Houston Texas U.S

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday approved roughly $8 billion in initial emergency aid for relief and rebuilding after Hurricane Harvey, which tore into Texas on August 25.

Members of Congress are also preparing to potentially make relief funds available for any damage caused by Hurricane Irma as the storm continues to approach Florida.

The vote would come as a stand-alone measure, and not be tied to the contentious issue of increasing the nation's borrowing limit. Tying the controversial debt limit bill to the Harvey relief package could make it easier to swallow for some lawmakers and further ensure its passage.

Then Treasure Secretary Steve Mnuchin made a plea on "Fox News Sunday" this past weekend for Congress to increase the borrowing authority along with a Harvey aid package, amid fears the government won't have enough cash to help Harvey victims in immediate need of assistance.

FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund had just $541 million "immediately available" for Harvey response and recovery efforts, an agency spokeswoman told Bloomberg on Tuesday. If Congress appropriates the money, but I don't have the ability to borrow more money and pay for it, we're not going to be able to get that money to the state.

The 419 to 3 vote Wednesday sent the aid package - likely the first of several - to the Senate in hopes of sending the bill to President Donald Trump before dwindling disaster reserves run out at the end of this week.

"Democrats are prepared to offer our votes for the Harvey aid package, and a short term debt limit increase of three months", Senate and House Minority Leaders Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi said in a joint statement Wednesday.

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Yet again, the Republican establishment controlled leadership is bending over backward to avoid spending cuts. Passing the debt limit increase along with the Harvey disaster relief would spare him that headache.

That raised the ire of House Speaker Paul Ryan, calling the proposition " unworkable".

"I'm willing to not say that hurricane relief has to have offsets", said Rep. Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

The House is nevertheless expected to easily pass the Harvey aid bill on the initial vote. Republicans are looking to extend the debt ceiling until the end of 2018.

While his vocal support suggests the idea could get broad support from Republicans, Cornyn, who is the GOP whip, said he had not had time to gauge all his colleagues - though he added he "believe (s) that's the plan".

"This takes 60 votes in the Senate", Ryan said. "If the Republican Party can't pass health care, can't pass tax reform, can't be fiscally responsible what are we?" His Senate counterpart, Dick Durbin, said he was "open to it" but that it depended on the length of the debt limit increase.

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