Disaster Funding Package Could Make Debt Default Fears Go Away for a Long Time

Congressional leaders are working on a mega-package that would not only link must-pass fiscal bills to must-pass disaster relief, but would extend the debt limit until after the midterms. Photo: Nicholas Kamm; Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

As we noted yesterday, congressional leaders are seizing on the idea of using disaster relief and recovery money for areas hit by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey as a locomotive to pull more controversial must-pass legislation through a thicket of potential conflicts. Politico reports that the packaging strategy is gaining momentum:

One of the new leading theories among Senate and House Republicans in Washington is that Congress will combine a three-month stopgap spending bill to keep the government open, the first installment of hurricane relief for Texas and Louisiana and an increase of the federal debt limit. 

Here’s a new wrinkle, however:

Key Republicans involved with planning told us they would be willing to lift the debt limit past the 2018 elections.

Whereas the gradually emerging mega-bill would only extend appropriations until December, postponing a confrontation that could lead to a government shutdown, it sounds like House and Senate leaders want to get the perpetually troublesome and potentially disastrous issue of the debt limit off the table for an extended period of time. That’s significant because the debt-limit bill has lately become the object of conservative demands for domestic-spending cuts. If said conservatives want to take a debt-limit increase hostage, it may be now or so far in the future it might as well be never.

For some of them, adding in disaster-relief money could well be another reason to vote against the whole package rather than an inducement to go along. As the Washington Examiner reminds us, 179 House Republicans voted against a 2013 supplemental appropriations bill to help the victims of Super Storm Sandy. But that was long after the horrific images of the storm had faded from the news, and moreover, the bill mostly benefitted northeastern “blue states.” With a Republican president leading the charge to help a state with 25 GOP House members — including many conservatives who normally turn a cold shoulder to such altruistic requests, in sync with Texas GOP senator Ted Cruz — opposition to post-Harvey relief and recovery could be more muted.

Additionally, making humanitarian relief the centerpiece of a fiscal package that avoids poison-pill conservative policy items can help make Democratic votes more reliable, and less subject to additional demands.

It’s early days yet, and there could still be what Politico calls “hiccups” in the process of rolling all these bills together and whipping them through Congress. Donald Trump, for example, would have to be totally onboard with a plan that would postpone his own saber-rattling over border-wall funding until December. The same is true of the pro-lifers who are undoubtedly planning on demands that any September fiscal package include defunding Planned Parenthood.

But behind the scenes, there would be significant bipartisan relief at the prospect of getting rid of debt default fears until 2019. That’s one legislative hostage no one can sanely regard as expendable.

Mega-Bill Could Make Debt Default Fears Go Away Until 2019