Some predict that Hurricane Harvey will be the most expensive disaster in U.S. history, and the push to pay for the recovery is already underway. Bloomberg reported Thursday that President Trump hopes to authorize $6 billion in Harvey relief. That's a lot of zeros, but the White House has reportedly decided that that amount is needed to keep relief efforts going. That won't keep some Republicans in Congress from potentially make it difficult, though.
How this will all work out is still up in the air, but what is known is that administration officials told several news outlets that Trump will write an official request sometime Friday or next week to Congress asking for the money. If the Republicans don't block it, the money would be the first payment of what could total upwards of $150 billion in federal aid.
This first chunk would only expected to last through the current fiscal year, which ends soon, on Sep. 30. The vast majority, $5.5 billion would go to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which heads up the relief effort at the federal level. Another $450 million would go to the Small Business Administration to be used to help affected companies in the area.
But after Trump puts forward the request, it's pretty much up to Congress to see the money pass the legislative process. There are lots of paths it could take, either through the House or Senate, as a standalone bill or an amendment on something bigger.
One popular plan at this point would be to attach the money to a bill on the debt ceiling, something that must be raised to allow America to continue borrowing money. If not, it would likely mean the United States defaults on its debts, causing potential havoc in the markets and making it more expensive for the country to borrow in the future.
In periods of normal governance, this is a routine vote. And, given that Republicans have control of the presidency, Senate, and House, it normally wouldn't be a problem, as it was in years past when the GOP used it as a bargaining chip with President Obama. But some of the more conservative members of the House are against raising the ceiling — especially when the bill is pushed through with the hurricane relief funds.
The Freedom Caucus chairman, Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican from North Carolina has already said he will oppose tying the funds to the debt ceiling vote, as he explained to The Washington Post:
The Harvey relief would pass on its own, and to use that as a vehicle to get people to vote for a debt ceiling is not appropriate. That sends all the wrong message: "Let’s go ahead and increase the debt ceiling, and by the way, while we’re doing it let’s go ahead and spend another $15, $20 billion?"
To try and make sure the measure does pass, the White House budget director has been making calls to both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill to try to build support for the Harvey relief money. Given FEMA's predictions of how long relief efforts will take, lawmakers could do well to make sure they're funded.