Congress may tackle Harvey relief funds and the debt ceiling in one swoop

Dominic Spann breaks apart a toy while helping clean out his grandfather's destroyed mobile homes after floodwaters from Harvey swept through the area Monday, Sept. 4, 2017, in Crosby, Texas. Thousands of people have been displaced by torrential rains and catastrophic flooding since Harvey slammed into Southeast Texas last week. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

At the top of Congress’ already lengthy back-from-summer-vacation to do list: coming up with funds for the Hurricane Harvey relief and rebuilding effort in Texas.

The White House already signaled it wants the Harvey money tied to a bill to raise the national debt ceiling — essentially raising the country’s credit card limit and committing to spending billions in Texas and Louisiana at the same time. Adding the ceiling-raise to a must-pass piece of legislation would make it hard to vote against.

The House is expected to vote on the $7.85 billion emergency relief package Wednesday, the Washington Post reports. The vast majority of those funds — $7.4 billion — will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Disaster Relief Fund. The bill would also authorize $450 million for direct loans to help small businesses get back on their feet.

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Any initial bill will only be a start. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) already estimated total recovery costs could total as high as $180 billion — more than the cost of 2012’s Hurricane Sandy recovery or the $125 billion the federal government paid out after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“These funds are needed, and they are needed now. I expect the House to move rapidly to approve this assistance. It is clear that this recovery will be a long haul – and additional assistance will be necessary in the near future,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) in a Sunday statement introducing the draft bill. “My committee will continue to keep close watch and will remain in contact with the administration to ensure that funding is available for recovery both now and down the road. Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Texas, Louisiana and all those affected, and we assure them that in their time of greatest need, we will come through for them.”

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