Congress passed a legislative package on Thursday that will avert a government shutdown at the end of the month, raise the debt ceiling to avoid default, and provide disaster aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey.
Legislators were already expected to have a busy September with the addition of passing hurricane aid to their already long to-do list, which included raising the debt ceiling and funding the government past September 30th, among other issues. However, during a meeting between President Trump and Congressional leaders from both parties on Wednesday, an agreement was reached to address all of the pressing fiscal issues on Congress’ agenda this month, several weeks before deadlines.
The President has thrown his support behind a legislative package, crafted by Democratic leadership, that will raise the debt ceiling for three months, extend government funding at current levels into December, and provide disaster aid for the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey. Republican leaders reportedly proposed a longer 18-month and then 6-month extension of the debt ceiling, but both were rejected by the President. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin also supported a longer-term debt ceiling deal, travelling to Capitol Hill Friday to sell it to Congressional Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) introduced legislation late Wednesday that would extend both the debt ceiling and government funding until December 8th and provide $15.25 billion in disaster relief funds, which will be used for Hurricane Harvey victims, as well as anticipated damage from Hurricane Irma which is expected to hit Florida this weekend. The legislative language contained in the continuing resolution will extend government funding at current levels for the next three months.
The funding deal supported by the President will push the partisan debate over the debt ceiling, fiscal year 2018 funding, and border wall funding until December, before lawmakers recess for the holidays. By extending the debt ceiling debate until later this year, Democrats may be able to exert greater influence over other policy issues this fall, such as a legislative solution to maintain the Deferred Actions for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, given that moderate Republicans will likely need Democratic support to raise the debt ceiling again in December.
Although Republican leaders Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Mitch McConnell (R-KY) did not initially support a short-term debt ceiling extension, McConnell ultimately lent his support to the package telling reporters that “the president can speak for himself, but his feeling was that we needed to come together to not create a picture of divisiveness at a time of genuine national crisis.”
The Senate approved the package 80-17 late Thursday, with the House passing the amended legislation by a wide margin this morning. The bill will now be sent to the President’s desk for final approval.
Resources: Mike DeBonis, Kelsey Snell, Philip Rucker, and Elise Viebeck, “Trump Sides with Democrats on Fiscal Issues, Throwing Republican Plans into Chaos,” Washington Post, September 7, 2017. Niv Elis, “House Approves Harvey Aid as Debt Wrangling Begins,” The Hill, September 6, 2017.