How Would A Government Shutdown Affect Harvey Relief? Trump Could Threaten To Halt Aid

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

As Hurricane Harvey continues to displace thousands of residents and destroy homes and businesses in cities throughout the U.S. Gulf Coast, people affected by the devastation will depend on government funding to assist in reconstruction and relief efforts. Both Democrats and Republicans have expressed bipartisan support for increasing financial assistance to these areas, but the funds won't necessarily be easy to approve. In fact, a debate over funding for Hurricane Harvey could affect the possibility of a government shutdown, given that a divided Congress is set to vote on a new budget next month.

When Congress reconvenes next week, it will have until Sept. 30 to approve a new budget, or pass legislation that will keep the government up and running until a budget is passed. Otherwise, the government will shut down, meaning that non-essential federal personnel, including some who are involved in Harvey relief efforts, will not be able to work until a resolution is reached. Sept. 30 is also the date that the National Flood Insurance Program's authorization expires, putting even more pressure on Congress to agree on funding that could assist devastated homeowners.

Approving these funds should be a no-brainer for lawmakers. But unfortunately, the process of passing a budget is extremely complicated, and what makes it even more so is the fact that President Trump said at a rally last week that he is willing to "close down that government" if the new budget does not include funding for his controversial border wall.

Trump has since vowed that he will encourage "“very rapid action from Congress" to approve funds for Harvey, and that his government shutdown threat "has nothing to do" with Harvey relief efforts. But the reality is, funding for Harvey will be a central point of conversation for Congressional lawmakers as they attempt to reach a compromise to keep the government running.

Stan Collander, a federal budget expert who penned an article on the topic in Forbes, said Trump could very well be considering attaching the funds for his border wall to a bill that includes funds for Harvey, leaving even Democrats no choice but to vote for it. Given this possibility, it's very likely that lawmakers will soon insist that funds for relief efforts can only be included in a standalone bill. According to Collander, this would put Trump in a "political bind."

Clearly, assisting people affected by Hurricane Harvey is an absolute priority for lawmakers. The tropical storm has already caused an estimated $30 billion in damages to homeowners, and politicians from Paul Ryan to Nancy Pelosi have expressed a commitment to offering aid as quickly as possible. But given the current disagreement over budget reform, these funds are not necessarily assured.

The most likely outcome is that Harvey funding will be attached to a "continuing resolution," a temporary measure that keeps the government running for a certain period of time, saving the major budget fight for a few months down the road. Hopefully, a compromise for these crucial funds is something all lawmakers can agree on.