Democrats and Republicans collide over Harvey aid

On Sunday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin suggested combining a $7.9 billion disaster relief package for areas affected by Hurricane Harvey with an increase in the nation’s borrowing limit. On Wednesday, top Democrats said they would support linking immediate help for Harvey recovery with a short-term debt limit increase.

In a joint statement on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said both issues were important, and that Democrats want to work on both and come up with a bipartisan consensus.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) doesn’t want the House bill providing Harvey aid to include language raising the debt ceiling. House conservatives say the two measures should move separately.

Members of the House Freedom Caucus want any measures to increase the debt limit to be paired with measures to restrain spending.

“If the Republicans won’t fix [our debt problem] when we’re in charge, who will?” Freedom Caucus member Rep. Dave Brat (R-Va.), said Tuesday.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said Tuesday that Senate Republicans would attach hurricane recovery money to a “clean” debt ceiling, according to The Hill, but didn’t indicate a time period for the increase.

On Wednesday, another joint statement by Schumer and Pelosi said: “Democrats are prepared to offer our votes for the Harvey aid package, and a short-term debt limit increase of three months. Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default, while both sides work together to address government funding, DREAMers, and health care.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) joined other House leaders on Wednesday to discuss the House’s efforts to fund Hurricane Harvey relief in Texas and Louisiana. He’s dismissed the Democratic offer, saying its “unworkable” and “ridiculous and disgraceful.”

“They want to play politics with the debt ceiling?” he stated to reporters. “It could put in jeopardy the kind of hurricane response we need to have.”

By the end of September, the House must address three key issues: raising the debt ceiling, funding the government and Harvey aid.

Republicans need at least eight Democratic votes to pass either a debt ceiling increase or a government funding bill. As the Federal coffers are steadily decreasing, Schumer and Pelosi’s proposal may be appealing to those wanting to fast-track the negotiations.

But extending the debt ceiling through December, as Democrats suggest, could give them more leverage in end-of-the-year spending talks, The Hill points out, giving Democrats room to push their priorities in later negotiations.

Speaker Ryan wrote in a tweet: “The House will not leave until we get [Hurricane Harvey] relief funding done. We will not let these communities down.”

Speaking to reporters, he said FEMA is moving so fast, they are draining the funds they already have, and they are preparing now for another potential hit from Hurricane Irma. He says the Senate must ensure there is money available to fund the activities.

“To play politics with the debt ceiling like Schumer and Pelosi apparently are doing, I don’t think is a good idea,” he said.

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