Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday he and President Donald Trump believe that raising the U.S. debt limit, which Congress must do within the next few weeks to avoid defaulting on its bills, should be tied to disaster relief funding for Hurricane Harvey.
“Without raising the debt limit I’m not comfortable that we’d get the money we’d need this month to Texas” for the recovery efforts, Mnuchin said on “Fox News Sunday.”
The White House has requested almost $8 billion in initial funding as a down payment in aid for areas ravaged by the storm. Linking that request to legislation that would increase the nation’s borrowing limit would make it politically difficult for deficit-wary Republicans in Congress to oppose such a bill.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have promised to “act quickly” on the administration’s request for Harvey aid funding when Congress reconvenes on Tuesday from its summer break, but they have not said how they plan to do so.
“As families & communities begin long recovery from Hurricane Harvey, House will act quickly on @POTUS request for emergency relief funding,” Ryan wrote on Twitter on Saturday.
Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who heads the conservative House Freedom Caucus, warned GOP leaders over the weekend not to link the debt limit with Harvey relief funding saying that would send “the wrong message.”
“The Harvey relief would pass on its own, and to use that as a vehicle to get people to vote for a debt ceiling is not appropriate,” Meadows said in an interview with The Washington Post.
“That’s not to undercut the importance of Harvey relief,” Meadows said. “We’re going to fund Harvey relief without a doubt, but I think it just sends the wrong message when you start attaching it to the debt ceiling.”
Democratic congressional leaders called for a bipartisan solution to both raising the debt ceiling and passing funding for Harvey relief.
“Providing aid in the wake of Harvey and raising the debt ceiling are both important issues, and Democrats want to work to do both,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a joint statement. “Given the interplay between all the issues Congress must tackle in September, Democrats and Republicans must discuss all the issues together and come up with a bipartisan consensus.”
Even if the White House and GOP congressional leaders reach an agreement about tying funding for Harvey aid to the debt limit, there is less consensus about including a government spending bill in such legislation. The current fiscal year for the government ends Sept. 30, and Congress has yet to enact a 2018 spending bill. Not doing so before the end of the month risks a government shutdown.
This article has been updated with comments from Democratic congressional leaders).