Hurricane Harvey brought devastation to Texas, but it may also have brought a way forward for GOP leaders. Republican lawmakers are now talking about tying a disaster aid bill to a larger measure that would fund the government and raise the nation’s debt ceiling.
If disaster assistance were included in a bill, it would almost certainly garner Republican votes for the package; without the aid, it will be unpopular with GOP leaders who oppose a “clean” debt-ceiling hike. They would like to impose restrictions on government spending.
This move may be popular with some Republicans, but it would mean a dangerous confrontation with President Trump. The president is demanding that the bill due at the end of the month includes $1.6 billion in funding for his border wall. Trump has clearly suggested that he is willing to shut down the government to get the funding. The GOP leaders need to avoid a shutdown while they are moving to the 2018 midterm elections and defending majorities in the House and Senate.
Trump spoke on Monday and vowed to get relief funding quickly for the victims of Harvey, but he also suggested that an aid package and the wall are separate issues. When the president faced questions that delivering emergency funding to Texas would be hurt by his threats to shut down the government because of a lack of financing for the border wall, he said, “It has nothing to do with it, really. I think this is separate,” Trump continued, “This is going to go very, very quickly. Everybody feels the same way I do.”
A spokesperson for Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said that the House is prepared to provide emergency funding for Texas, but it needs to receive guidance from the administration on what is required. “We will help those affected by this terrible disaster. The first step in that process is a formal request for resources from the administration,” she said.
The looming deadline for raising the debt ceiling could not come at a time more intense. With the urgent need in Texas, there is now a rift between the White House and their Capitol Hill allies. The president has aimed at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) repeatedly since the Senate’s failure to repeal ObamaCare. Last week Trump blamed both McConnell and Ryan for the mired debt ceiling dialogue.
It seems to all hinge on whether there will be enough votes without having to have a “clean debt limit” measure. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have already objected to joining a spending measure with the debt-limit bill. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), the chairman of the Freedom Caucus, said that a clean debt-limit bill without spending reforms is not acceptable.
“The real question becomes, when we had President Obama in the White House, we never did a clean debt ceiling. Why do we do a clean debt ceiling now that we have a Republican in the White House? Most of my constituents won’t understand why we did that,” Meadows said.
Will the recent disaster bring more dissension, or will it bring about a decision that wins the majority?
Credit: The Hill