Democratic Congressional Leaders Offer Support for Harvey Aid, Debt Limit Rise

By Kristina Peterson Features Dow Jones Newswires

Congressional Democratic leaders said Wednesday they were prepared to offer to President Donald Trump and Republican leaders support for a three-month increase in the federal government's borrowing limit and an initial package of relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey, in a move that would maintain uncertainty around the debt limit but give Democrats more leverage in upcoming negotiations.

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House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said they would back a bill expected to come up for a vote Wednesday in the House that would provide $7.85 billion in Harvey emergency aid.

Senate GOP leaders indicated Tuesday they plan to attach an increase in the debt limit, a politically difficult vote for many Republicans, to the popular Harvey aid. Already some conservative Republicans have balked at the combination, saying they won't support raising the debt limit without taking other steps to rein in federal spending.

"Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default" while addressing other issues including Mr. Trump's decision to end a program that shields undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer said.

The two Democratic leaders will propose the plan to Mr. Trump and GOP leaders at a meeting later Wednesday at the White House, according to a Democratic aide.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) immediately rejected Democrats' proposal on Wednesday morning.

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"That's a ridiculous idea," Mr. Ryan told reporters. "We've got all this devastation in Texas, we've got another hurricane about to hit Florida and they want to play politics with the debt ceiling?"

Mr. Ryan said Democrats' offer could jeopardize the Harvey aid if it gets caught in the crosshairs of the debt-ceiling fight. GOP leaders were expected to push for a longer-term increase in the debt limit, but the exact amount wasn't clear Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) said the prospect of Hurricane Irma, a storm threatening Florida over the next several days, increased the pressure for Congress to move swiftly on both emergency relief and raising the debt limit.

"The need for certainty now is incredibly important," Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor Wednesday, noting that he was in discussions with Democrats.

The Democratic leaders' offer is a move to maintain the party's leverage in upcoming negotiations over the next three months, Democratic aides said. The government's funding is set to expire by Oct. 1, and lawmakers have said they expect to pass a short-term measure keeping the government running until December. Passage of a short-term debt limit increase would likely align the two fiscal deadlines.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged lawmakers to raise the debt ceiling by the end of September to ensure the government can 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.

Lawmakers are also debating how to address the Obama administration-era program that protects undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children -- known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Mr. Trump on Tuesday said he would end the program after six months and urged lawmakers to pass broad immigration legislation before then.

And many lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hope to take steps to shore up the 2010 Affordable Care Act's individual insurance markets. Sens. Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) and Patty Murray (D., Wash.) are holding bipartisan hearings on the issue this week in the Senate.

Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 06, 2017 11:51 ET (15:51 GMT)