The Slatest

White House Wants Congress to Tie Harvey Funds to Debt Ceiling Rise

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin speaks to reporters at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House on Aug. 25.

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Getting the federal funds to assist the victims of Hurricane Harvey may turn out to be a longer process than some were anticipating. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said the administration wants Congress to attach the aid funds to a bill that would increase the federal debt limit without any spending cuts. The move amounts to the opening salvo in what could end up being a drawn-out fight with an influential group of House conservatives who have warned against pursuing this strategy.

“That’s our priority,” Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday. “At this point, we need to put politics aside. We need to make sure that we can get to Texas the appropriate amount of money to rebuild the state. It is absolutely critical, and the president is committed to making sure that the states have the money that they need.”

The United States is scheduled to reach its debt limit by the end of the month unless Congress raises the ceiling. In fact, the nation’s debt limit has already technically been reached but the Treasury Department is using numerous accounting measures to pay the bills. While Mnuchin had previously said the final limit to raise the debt ceiling was Sept. 29, on Sunday he said that the deadline has gotten closer due to the unexpected spending on Harvey aid.

“Prior to Harvey, I’ve said we’ve had enough funding to go through end of September and had urged Congress to focus on this before that period of time,” Mnuchin noted. “But with Harvey, it’s moved the situation up earlier, and without raising the debt limit, I’m not comfortable that we will get the money that we need this month to Texas to rebuild.”

Trump has called on Congress to approve almost $8 billion for initial aid to Harvey victims although that’s only the first in what is expected to be lots more money in aid in the near future. “This will cost well over $120 billion,” Gov. Greg Abbott said in an interview on Sunday. “Probably $150 to $180 billion.” Abbott qualified the first request by Trump as “just a down payment.”