Hurricane Harvey aid, debt on returning Congress’ daunting to-do list
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress ends its five-week summer recess Tuesday as storm-ravaged states clamor for Harvey aid, the Trump administration demands a swift increase in the nation’s borrowing authority, and President Donald Trump’s actions on immigration seem certain to upend the fall agenda.
Lawmakers face a daunting workload and fast-approaching deadlines, including the need to fund the government and increase the United States’ $19.9 trillion debt ceiling by month’s end. A Republican-led Congress with no major legislative achievement in the first seven months of Trump’s presidency also is intent on overhauling the nation’s tax code, hoping for a political win after the failure of repealing and replacing Barack Obama’s health care law.
The immediate focus will be rushing a $7.9 billion disaster relief package to Harvey victims. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin raised the stakes last weekend by calling on Congress to combine the aid with a contentious increase in the nation’s borrowing limit. Conservatives oppose raising the borrowing limit without getting something in exchange, such as deep cuts elsewhere in federal spending.
“The president and I believe that it should be tied to the Harvey funding,” Mnuchin said Sunday. “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. So, we need to put politics aside.”
The House and Senate are expected to vote quickly on the first $7.9 billion aid installment to help with immediate recovery and rebuilding needs in Houston and beyond. Additional billions will be tucked into a catchall spending bill later in the month that will keep the lights on in government past Sept. 30, when the current budget year ends.
“Somebody who’s just been pulled off their roof doesn’t want to hear about our internecine squabbles and debates over procedure when they’ve lost their homes and are trying to figure out where they’re going to sleep the next night,” said Rep. Charlie Dent, R-Pa.
Swift action on Harvey will give Congress and Trump the chance to look competent and remind voters that government can be a positive force. GOP lawmakers head into the final quarter of the year desperate to notch accomplishments and make headway on a sweeping tax overhaul, and the majority party is eager for the chance to turn around its dreary track record ahead of next year’s midterm elections.
Trump may toss another tricky issue Congress’ way. The president was expected to announce that he will end protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children, but with a six-month delay. The postponement in the formal dismantling of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program would be intended to give Congress time to address the issue. But it was unclear whether it could resolve the problem given that it has had several failures in attempts to enact comprehensive immigration reform.
Some Republicans, led by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have urged Trump not to end the program and save nearly 800,000 from the threat of deportation.
Adding to the pile of work, a few important programs are expiring at the end of September and need to be renewed. They include children’s health insurance payments and a national federal flood insurance program that has bipartisan support but continually pays out more than it takes in through premiums.