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Harvey Aid Package Adds to Full House Agenda

Debt limits talks have potential to divide Republicans

House GOP leaders plan to begin finishing the appropriations process on the floor and possibly passing a relief package for Hurricane Harvey in September. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
House GOP leaders plan to begin finishing the appropriations process on the floor and possibly passing a relief package for Hurricane Harvey in September. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

As the House returns from its summer recess, Republicans are looking to pass the eight remaining appropriations bills soon, which would complete a GOP omnibus they hope will serve as an opening bid for negotiations with the Senate.

The chamber might also take quick action on an initial supplemental appropriations measure to provide money for Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts. An additional package or two will likely be needed as Harvey’s full impact is assessed.

Before the recess, the House passed a four-bill appropriations minibus focused on security-related funding that included $1.6 billion for constructing a barrier along the southern border. Most of the remaining eight bills the House will consider as a single package this week are focused on domestic programs. 

Through a rule, the eight-bill package will ultimately be combined with the previously passed minibus to create a full 12-bill omnibus reflecting GOP policy priorities.

Fall House Forecast

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House Republicans understand the omnibus has no chance of passing the Senate, where some Democratic support is needed to clear the 60-vote threshold. But they felt it was important to set a marker for what the House could pass as leaders enter into bipartisan, bicameral negotiations. 

Those talks will likely begin in earnest Wednesday as Speaker Paul D. Ryan, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer head to the White House to meet with President Donald Trump

The meeting is expected to touch on a host of September’s pressing issues, including government funding, the debt ceiling, and Hurricane Harvey. 

Ryan has already signaled that the solution to the Sept. 30 government funding deadline will be a short-term continuing resolution to extend funding levels and provide more time to reach a deal. 

David Hawkings’ Whiteboard: What Is the Debt Ceiling?

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“I think that will probably be necessary, yes, because I can’t imagine the Senate will be able to process the appropriations bills as quickly as the House is,” Ryan said Aug. 23 when asked whether Congress would need a short-term CR.

A CR is reportedly the loophole needed to stave off Trump’s threat to close down the government if Congress does not provide funding to build his border wall.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows said on ABC’s “Powerhouse Politics” podcast on Aug. 29 that conservatives would back a short-term CR that does not fund the border wall, delaying a showdown. 

“I would support him in any manner that he wants to address the border wall,” the North Carolina Republican said.

However, Meadows seems ready to avoid a fight in September, suggesting that House leadership could advance a CR soon and attach the initial Harvey relief supplemental to it.

If leadership dispenses with those issues simultaneously, then the big item on their to-do list would be raising the debt ceiling.

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While some members have talked about attaching that to a funding package, Meadows and other conservatives who want to attach fiscal restraint measures to the debt limit measure are expected to push for keeping it separate.

Another pressure point Republicans will have to confront as they return to Washington is the fiscal 2018 budget resolution. Leadership lacked the votes to bring it to the floor before the recess, but House Budget Chairwoman Diane Black has been whipping support throughout recess.

Adopting a budget resolution is a necessity if Republicans follow through on their plan to use the reconciliation process to overhaul the tax code. A tax bill advanced under reconciliation would only need 51 Senate votes, avoiding a filibuster.

GOP congressional leaders and Trump spent part of August promoting broad plans to rewrite the tax code. The leaders want to pass a tax bill by no later than the end of the year. 

In a sign that a tax overhaul is a priority, Trump meets Tuesday with the “Big Six” tax negotiators: Ryan, McConnell, House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady, Senate Finance Chairman Orrin G. Hatch, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and White House chief economic adviser Gary Cohn. 

In addition to those high-profile issues, Congress faces deadlines at the end of September to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the federal flood insurance program

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