Following a lengthy summer break, Congress will return to work on Tuesday with a daunting to-do list. Among the priorities lawmakers will have to tackle in September are a budget bill to prevent a government shutdown, a debt-ceiling increase, reauthorization of the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).
Some in the Republican majority are also hoping to squeeze in time for tax reform and maybe another crack at health care. We may even hear some discussion about infrastructure at some point.
But as the deadly crisis continues to unfold in southeastern Texas, Congress also has a responsibility to take up disaster relief. It's against this backdrop that the Associated Press published a striking detail about a pending Republican spending bill.
President Donald Trump is promising billions to help Texas rebuild from Hurricane Harvey, but his Republican allies in the House are looking at cutting almost $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance the president's border wall.The pending reduction to the Federal Emergency Management Agency's disaster relief account is part of a spending bill that the House is scheduled to consider next week when Congress returns from its August recess. The $876 million cut, part of the 1,305-page measure's homeland security section, pays for roughly half the cost of Trump's down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Reports like these may seem hard to believe, but the AP is correct. House Republicans, eager to find money for Donald Trump's border wall, proposed using funds from FEMA's disaster relief account. The AP's article went on to note that "the optics" surrounding the GOP proposal are "politically bad," which seems like a rather profound understatement.
But there's a little more to this.
It's worth emphasizing that the House Republicans' plan to cut FEMA's disaster funding was crafted long before Hurricane Harvey made landfall. In other words, this was the GOP plan before members knew about the devastation in Texas, and it's a safe bet that when Congress gets back to work next week, House leaders will quickly change their plan.
They'll still look for money to pay for Trump's border wall, of course, and include those cuts in their spending bill, but GOP lawmakers will almost certainly steer clear of FEMA's disaster relief account.
"Circumstances have changed significantly since the bill was drafted earlier this summer," House Appropriations Committee spokesperson Jennifer Hing said yesterday. "Given the current situation, the committee is reassessing the issue."
You don't say.
The question of why House Republicans ever thought this was a good idea still deserves an answer, but it probably won't be their position much longer.