House clears billions in emergency aid for Harvey victims

Posted September 07, 2017

Almost two weeks after Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas, the U.S. House is scheduled to vote on a nearly $8 billion disaster relief package for those affected by the storm and the consequent flooding.

The House may have to vote again in the coming days to combine the disaster relief money with a debt limit increase. The White House requested $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency's operations and $450 million for the Small Business Administration.

The House is expected to pass the first installment Wednesday of emergency funding for the recovery effort following Hurricane Harvey, which will be immediately sent to the Senate. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Sunday that they are willing to consider the plan, but they did not commit to providing the votes necessary to ensure that the bill can pass without conservative support. The measure will then go to the Senate where Republican leaders will add legislation to increase the debt limit, beating an end-of-September deadline where the U.S. Treasury would no longer be able to pay its existing bills.

"The federal government needs to provide disaster relief for situations like this, and as Hurricane Irma moves closer to the United States, it's important that Congress signals that we will support relief from these devastating natural disasters", Stefanik, R-Willsboro, said. Senate Republicans do want a debt ceiling increase tied to Harvey aid.

Schumer identified two of those priorities as legalizing the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program that President Donald Trump ended Tuesday, and a long-term bill funding insurers to stabilize the individual health insurance market created by Obamacare.

Representative Mark Walker, who chairs the conservative Republican Study Committee, told reporters on Wednesday he did not think "there is a single Republican who would have a problem doing some kind of relief package" but cautioned against tying it to a debt ceiling bill. "They ought to be separate bills", said Arlington Rep. Joe Barton, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, on Tuesday.

"I think that's a ridiculous idea".

How Republicans resolve these issues could influence the outcome of next year's congressional elections.

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".

Back in August, Mnuchin said that he was 100 percent confident the debt limit would be raised.

"I think that's a mistake", he said.