People evacuate a neighborhood inundated by floodwaters from Tropical Storm Harvey on Monday, Aug. 28, 2017, in Houston, Texas (AP/Charlie Riedel)

Republicans are divided on how to pay for Hurricane Harvey disaster relief

The House Freedom Caucus leader tells the GOP not to bundle debt ceiling increase and disaster recovery funds


Matthew Sheffield
September 1, 2017 6:05PM (UTC)

The damage caused by Hurricane Harvey hasn't fully been calculated but Republicans in Washington appear to be divided over how to fund repairs in affected regions in Louisiana and Texas.

On Thursday, Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina, the leader of the GOP's anti-spending wing in the House of Representatives urged congressional Republicans not to bundle Harvey recovery funds with a bill that increases the amount of money the federal government is allowed to spend.

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"Using Harvey relief spending to pass a separate, unrelated bill would be inappropriate and send the wrong message," Meadows wrote on Twitter.

The idea of combining the two measures has been floated by some within the Republican Party as a means of forcing members to vote for an increase in the federal debt ceiling. For some time, conservative activists and their allies in Congress have sought to link spending increase measures conditioned on cuts to federal spending on the grounds that the U.S. national debt is too high. Recently, however, a number of Republicans have indicated that they do not believe that tax reductions that would lower federal revenues need to be offset with revenue increases.

Meadows and his colleagues in the "House Freedom Caucus" have long opposed proposals to pass so-called clean increases in the debt limit.

In 2013, Meadows and several other far-right Republicans voted against a bill providing recovery funds to Northeastern states affected by Hurricane Sandy because it did not include counter-balancing spending cuts. One of the people who opposed Sandy recovery spending was Vice President Mike Pence, then a congressman from Indiana. Pence eventually voted for the bill, but had strong words about paying for it.

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This time around, Meadows and his allies are not demanding that federal funds dispersed to Louisiana and Texas victims of Harvey be accompanied by offsetting spending reductions elsewhere.

“Obviously we would prefer offsets,” Meadows told the Washington Post. “Generally speaking, though, to demand offsets when you have this magnitude of emergency spending is not something that I believe will get done. I mean, you know me: I’m a fiscal conservative, and I would prefer to have offsets, but . . . let’s put it this way: The focus has not been on the offsets as much as it has been on getting relief to those affected.”

Bloomberg News reported Friday that the GOP's House leadership will not link an initial bill providing approximately $6 billion in federal funds to Harvey victims to the debt ceiling. Additional funds will have to be allocated in the future once the extent of the storm damage is known.

According to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Congress must pass an increase in the federal debt ceiling by Sept. 29. The Trump Administration and congressional GOP leaders favor a "clean" limit increase. If enough Republicans oppose such legislation, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell may have to turn to Democrats for their votes.

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Matthew Sheffield

A writer, web developer, and former tv producer, Matthew Sheffield covers politics, media, and technology for Salon. You can email him via m.sheffield@salon.com or follow him on Twitter.

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Disaster Relief House Freedom Caucus Hurricane Harvey Mark Meadows Steve Mnuchin

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