Trump Asks That $8 Billion Harvey "Down Payment" Be Added To Debt-Ceiling Bill

Shortly after President Trump backed away from his demand that $1.6 billion in funding for his border wall be included in a continuing-resolution bill to avert a government shutdown, the White House late Friday sent a request for $8 billion in emergency funding for the Hurricane Harvey cleanup effort, and asked that the money be tied to a bill to raise the US debt-ceiling limit. Trump’s request that the two legislative priorities be combined in one bill likely won’t go over well among Congressional Republicans, according to Bloomberg.

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the leader of the House Freedom Caucus and perhaps Trump’s most intransigent political adversary, urged lawmakers on Thursday not to bundle the two legislative priorities. In a tweet, Meadows said it’d be “inappropriate” and “would send the wrong message” to use Harvey funds as leverage to force conservatives to vote for a debt-ceiling increase.

The aid money will be needed to shore up the nearly bankrupt FEMA’s finances before some 450,000 Texans file requests for aid. The rising toll of flood-related property damage is expected to quickly deplete the $10 billion left in the coffers of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Here’s Bloomberg:

“In a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan requesting the storm aid, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stops short of explicitly asking for the two to be linked. But the letter makes clear that the emergency spending will accelerate the timetable for raising the limit and conveys the idea that failure to pay obligations could imperil essential government services.

 

The White House disaster aid request includes $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and $450 million for the Small Business Administration. The request is intended primarily to cover funding demands through the end of the federal fiscal year on Sept. 30.”

The administration intends to ask Congress to allow the aid to be disbursed in one lump sum, rather than parceling out in monthly installments.

“The White House will ask Congress to provide FEMA with $6.7 billion in that legislation, and provide the full funding upfront, rather than pro-rating the appropriation out over the entire fiscal year, an administration official said. That request, if adopted by lawmakers in a vote likely to come at the end of the month, would provide FEMA with additional flexibility to fund Harvey relief efforts in the new fiscal year.”

Republicans are expected to vote on disaster relief next week after they return from summer recess. Congress is already facing a grueling legislative calendar in September with only 12 working days to pass a continuing resolution, disaster relief, a debt-ceiling increase and, potentially, their effort to repeal and replace Obamacare after the Senate Parliamentarian informed party leaders that the provisions allowing them to pass their health-care bill with a simple majority will expire at the end of the month.

“The administration’s move will test the willingness of Republicans in Congress to link the two must-pass pieces of legislation. House GOP leaders plan to vote next week on Trump’s request in initial disaster relief funding but they don’t plan to include a U.S. debt-limit increase in the legislation, two GOP congressional aides said before Mulvaney’s letter was sent.

 

"The president visited Texas on August 29, 2017 to reassure the people of Texas that the Federal Government would help them rebuild from the catastrophic flooding and damage to affected communities," Mulvaney said in the letter. "This request is a down-payment on the President’s commitment to help affected States recover from the storm, and future requests will address longer-term rebuilding needs."

According to Bloomberg, citing unnamed Congressional aides, the Senate might be more willing to combine both measures in a bill, and the House, bizarrely, might be more willing to pass a bundled bill if it makes it through the Senate first. Despite the reported rift between Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican has promised to cooperate with the president. He hasn’t said whether he’d prefer to combine, or separate, Harvey funding and the debt-ceiling increase.

“‘Working closely with the President and the House of Representatives, the Senate stands ready to act quickly to provide this much-needed assistance to those impacted communities, and support first responders and volunteers,’ he said.”

House Speaker Paul Ryan has also been conspicuously silent about how the House intends to pass Harvey relief…

…though he recently told a Wisconsin newspaper that Congress “will not default” on its debts.

“Ryan told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, though, that Congress has until October to act on the debt limit.

 

‘We will not default,’ the Wisconsin newspaper quoted Ryan as saying. ‘We’ve got a lot of options on our plate. We’re going to assess those options. We have until October to figure that one out.’”

We probably won’t have a clear picture of the combined bill’s chances. For what it’s worth, Goldman is optimistic that a compromise can be reached. It recently lowered its odds of a government shutdown to 15%, down from 50% last week.

Let's hope, for the disaster victims' sake, that the squid is right.