House and Senate Democratic leaders seem to have gotten their way after President Donald Trump agreed to tacking on a three-month extension of borrowing authorities to a Hurricane Harvey aid bill.
Trump told reporters on Air Force One Wednesday that he and congressional leaders agreed to a three-month extension of the debt ceiling and a three-month government spending bill. Those will be tacked on to a Hurricane Harvey relief bill, which he said will likely be inflated by an unspecified amount to address the approaching Hurricane Irma.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced before meeting with the president and their Republican counterparts that they would propose to Trump pairing Hurricane Harvey aid with a three-month extension of borrowing authorities.
“Democrats are prepared to offer our votes for the Harvey aid package, and a short term debt limit increase of three months,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement before the meeting. “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.”
But Speaker Paul D. Ryan blasted the combined proposal before meeting with Trump.
“I think that’s a ridiculous idea. I hope that they don’t mean that,” the Wisconsin Republican told reporters. “Let’s just think about this: We’ve got all this devastation in Texas. We’ve got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida. And they want to play politics with the debt ceiling? That will strand the aid that we need to bring to these victims of these storms that have occurred or are about to occur.
“And then they also want to threaten default on our debt? I think that’s ridiculous and disgraceful that they want to play politics on the debt ceiling at this moment when we have fellow citizens in need.”
Asked how long of a debt ceiling increase is needed, Ryan demurred, saying, “What the leaders you just described proposed is unworkable and it could put in jeopardy the kind of hurricane response we need to have. Look, many of us got the calls from the administration and OMB who said FEMA is moving so fast that we’re running out of money as early as Friday to Tuesday. So we’ve got to make sure that we have the authority, legal authority to go out and be able to put money back into FEMA so we can respond to these hurricanes.”
Ryan also noted the need to pre-position resources in advance of Hurricane Irma, which is expected to batter Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands before moving toward Florida, which is already under a state of emergency.
“As you know this takes 60 votes in the Senate. I think what the president doesn’t want to do is give more leverage where it shouldn’t occur on the debt ceiling,” the speaker said when asked why not just pass a debt ceiling with Republican votes.
An emergency supplemental spending measure designed to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund and provide immediate assistance for the recovery from Harvey is set to pass the House on Wednesday.
And it appears the measure will be amended in the Senate to add a debt ceiling increase or suspension of an unknown duration.
With the House using a legislative vehicle that can avoid some of the usual procedural hurdles in the Senate, absent a time agreement, the Senate will be able to hold a debate-limiting cloture vote on the bill in whatever final form it may take as early as Friday.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, a member of the leadership team, signaled late Tuesday that adding a continuing resolution to a potential Harvey aid and debt limit measure could be a bridge too far.
Blunt said that such a proposal “sounds like a lot.”
No formal announcements regarding the Senate’s procedure are expected until after the weekly conference lunches. The usual Tuesday lunches will take place on Wednesday this week because of Monday’s Labor Day holiday.