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Harvey aid, debt limit top GOP’s congressional agenda

The U.S. Capitol is seen as Congress returns

The U.S. Capitol is seen as Congress returns Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2017, from the August recess to face work on raising the debt limit, funding the government and helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. Photo Credit: AP

WASHINGTON — Republican congressional leaders put emergency disaster aid for Harvey-ravaged Texas and Louisiana, the federal debt limit and a federal spending bill at the top of their crowded agenda when they returned here Tuesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) stressed the need to shore up the federal government’s ability to borrow money to fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency for Gulf Coast recovery now, and for future disasters as Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida.

But President Donald Trump’s call for Congress to pass a bill to protect the 800,000 members of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which he announced Tuesday that he is terminating, drew mixed reactions, including support from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and a cool response from McConnell.

“I know that securing this emergency funding is very important for the president, and I know that preventing a default or shutdown amidst such a historic natural disaster is also very important to him — and even more so now with another major hurricane on the way,” McConnell said on the Senate floor.

“These are the president’s immediate priorities: Pass disaster relief. Prevent a default. Fund the government. They are my immediate priorities as well,” McConnell said. He also said federal tax cuts or reforms are high on the list or priorities.

The Senate has until Sept. 29 to raise the debt ceiling and until Sept. 30 to fund the government in the new fiscal year, which McCarthy said would likely be a bill to extend federal funding for another three months.

“Wednesday morning, we’ll pass relief to make sure FEMA has enough money to get moving right now while the cities and counties get the estimates in, so we can get more resources as we go forward,” McCarthy said on the Fox Business Network.

After the House passes the Trump administration’s $7.9 billion disaster relief bill — which Democrats have indicated they will support — it will go to the Senate. There, McConnell is expected to tie that aid to an increase in the debt ceiling and pass them together as a package.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats would support the disaster relief bill. “Congress will do its part to provide relief and aid to the people of Houston this month,” he said on the Senate floor.

But Schumer discussed other legislation that Democrats see as priorities.

“In addition to a recovery package for Houston, we have to pass appropriations to keep the government open, raise the debt ceiling, protect the Dreamers, provide certainty on the cost-sharing programs that keep health care premiums down, and much, much more,” he said.

Legislation to protect DACA recipients has support from some Republicans. Ryan said in a statement: “It is my hope that the House and the Senate, with the president’s leadership, will be able to find consensus on a permanent legislative solution.”

But in his floor remarks, McConnell did not even mention the issue. And in his reaction to Trump’s termination of the DACA program, McConnell said, “This Congress will continue working on securing our border and ensuring a lawful system of immigration that works.”

Meanwhile, another top Democratic priority is for Congress to pass legislation to make permanent payments to insurers to stabilize the individual health insurance under Obamacare, which the Trump administration has threatened to undermine so that it collapses.

The Senate committee on health will begin the first of four hearings Wednesday on the next steps for health care, with testimony from state insurance directors.

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