President Trump has sent lawmakers an initial request for a $7.9 billion down payment toward Harvey relief and recovery efforts. The request, expected to be swiftly approved by Congress, would add $7.4 billion to rapidly dwindling Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster aid coffers and $450 million to finance disaster loans for small businesses. Republican leaders are already making plans to use the aid package, certain to be overwhelmingly popular, to win speedy approval of a contentious increase in the federal borrowing limit, a senior House Republican tells the AP. The approach ignores objections from House conservatives who are insisting that disaster money for Harvey should not be paired with the debt limit increase.
For GOP lawmakers who support a straightforward increase in the debt limit, pairing it with Harvey money makes the unpopular vote easier to cast. Congress must act by Sept. 29 to increase the US' $19.9 trillion debt limit, in order to permit the government to continue borrowing money to pay bills like Social Security and interest. Failing to raise the debt limit would risk a market-shattering first-ever US default. The initial Harvey package is just the first installment for immediate disaster response like housing assistance, cleanup, and FEMA-financed home repairs. The White House says more than 436,000 households have registered for FEMA aid. Estimates for longer-term rebuilding costs will take weeks or months to prepare, but the magnitude of the disaster could exceed the damage from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which cost taxpayers $110 billion. (Read more Hurricane Harvey stories.)