- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Senate Republicans said Tuesday they will link a Hurricane Harvey relief package to an increase in the government’s borrowing limit, disappointing conservatives who’d insisted each issue should be debated on its own merits.

Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican in the chamber, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will run out of money by the end of the week and that it’s “imperative” to get a supplemental spending bill passed for the clean-up in his home state after the massive storm.

And knowing that legislation is likely to sail through, GOP leaders decided to attach the less popular debt-ceiling increase, hoping to take care of a potential political headache.

It’s a strategy the Trump administration has also blessed, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin saying that approving hurricane relief money won’t do any good if the government can’t legally borrow the money.

The House is slated to vote on a $7.85 billion Harvey relief package on Wednesday that does not address the debt ceiling, but Senate GOP leaders signaled they’ll attach the debt provisions when they get the bill.

“I look forward to the House sending over legislation so that the Senate can act on it as soon as possible,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said.

The federal government has run up against its nearly $20 trillion borrowing limit and needs an increase by the end of this month, or else default on some obligations, the Treasury Department says.

Conservative Republicans have long protested “clean” debt increases, saying that any hikes in borrowing should be coupled with new controls on spending.

“We wouldn’t do a clean debt ceiling increase under a [Democratic] president — why would you do that under a Republican president?” Rep. Dave Brat, Virginia Republican, said Tuesday on a conference call organized by FreedomWorks, a conservative advocacy group.

Mr. Brat is a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, has also warned leadership against tying the two issues together.

“I’m willing to do a number of things that a typical conservative would not support because I see the devastation that’s there, but yet at the same time, tying a debt ceiling to it is just using it as leverage to get something done that perhaps should have gotten done in a different manner,” Mr. Meadows told reporters Tuesday.

Rep. Mark Walker, who chairs the Republican Study Committee, another influential conservative caucus, said the whole thing smelled like a “backroom deal” between Mr. McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer.

“You know we’re grateful that in Texas the flood waters continue to recede, but here in the swamp, it looks like they continue to rise,” Mr. Walker said on Fox News.

Conservative lobbying groups are also steeling for a fight.

David McIntosh, president of the conservative advocacy group Club for Growth, said the Harvey package must be paid for with cuts elsewhere, and called the idea of coupling an increase in the debt ceiling with Harvey relief “abhorrent.”

“Now, with the Senate’s intention to add Harvey spending to a debt ceiling increase, even calling it a ‘clean’ increase is a misnomer; this action is dirtier than ever,” Mr. McIntosh said.

If enough conservatives object, Republican leaders could be forced to turn to Mr. Schumer and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to deliver Democrats to get the package across the finish line.

Mr. Schumer on Tuesday called for a bipartisan path forward, but has also said Democrats might be less willing to provide debt limit votes if the GOP insists on passing a deficit-financed tax reform package.

Mr. Trump said last month he tried to get Mr. McConnell and Speaker Paul D. Ryan to attach a debt ceiling increase to a veterans bill, but they refused.

“They didn’t do it so now we have a big deal with Dems holding them up (as usual) on Debt Ceiling approval. Could have been so easy-now a mess!” Mr. Trump tweeted.

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