Senate GOP Leaders to Add Debt-Limit Increase to Harvey Aid Bill

By Kristina Peterson and Siobhan Hughes Features Dow Jones Newswires

Senate GOP leaders indicated Tuesday that they will tie an increase in the nation's borrowing limit to a spending bill for victims of Tropical Storm Harvey, a move that could boost the debt-limit legislation's chances of passage ahead of a deadline later this month.

Continue Reading Below

Facing a long list of must-pass legislation this month, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are hoping to quickly approve an initial measure providing $7.95 billion in emergency aid to help relief efforts in the wake of Harvey, which first made landfall in Texas as a hurricane on Aug. 25.

The initial Harvey aid faces little opposition on its own in Congress and is expected to sail through the House on Wednesday. But it will become more controversial when it reaches the Senate, where GOP leaders indicated they plan to attach a measure lifting the debt limit.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling by the end of September to ensure that the government has enough cash to pay its bills on time. Failure to increase the debt limit could cause the government to miss payments to bondholders and result in a default on government debt.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said he was acting to deliver on President Donald Trump's top priorities of providing Harvey relief, preventing a default on the debt and avoiding a government shutdown when its current funding expires on Oct. 1.

"They are my immediate priorities as well," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Tuesday. "In the case of the debt limit, we need to act quickly given the new uncertainty from the large costs of storm recovery."

Continue Reading Below

Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R., Texas) later told reporters Mr. McConnell had made the decision to add an increase in the debt limit to the emergency Harvey spending measure, known as a "supplemental" spending bill, after it clears the House.

"It's imperative we get that supplemental passed," Mr. Cornyn told reporters. "The [Senate majority] leader's made the decision to attach the debt limit to that, and I support that."

Mr. Cornyn said he expected the debt-limit increase would be "clean," meaning it wouldn't be accompanied by any measures to curb federal spending. It wasn't clear Tuesday afternoon by how much the debt limit would be raised.

The combined bill would then face another vote in the House, where it will face more resistance from GOP lawmakers who don't want to raise the debt limit without taking steps to rein in federal spending.

The political calculation by GOP leaders is that incorporating the Harvey aid could take some of the sting for Republicans out of supporting a debt-limit increase. Such a move is almost certain to meet with conservative opposition, but doesn't jeopardize Democratic support, which will likely be needed to pass the bill in both chambers.

"We wouldn't do a clean debt-ceiling increase under a Democratic president. Why would you do that under a Republican president?" Rep. Dave Brat (R., Va.) said on a call with reporters Tuesday.

Still, relatively few of the 25 House Texas Republicans are seen as likely to vote against a bill that includes Harvey aid, helping boost overall GOP support for the bill.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com and Siobhan Hughes at siobhan.hughes@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 05, 2017 16:56 ET (20:56 GMT)