Congress Passes CR & Debt Limit Extension Till December 8, Initial Hurricane Relief

Congress Passes CR & Debt Limit Extension Till December 8, Initial Hurricane Relief

In remarkably short order, the House and Senate have passed a bill that provides an initial $15 billion in hurricane relief and keeps the government operating and extends the debt limit and the flood insurance program until December 8, 2017.  President Trump has indicated that he will sign it into law.  It is a short term solution, but one that will be welcomed in many quarters. [UPDATE:  President Trump signed the bill into law this afternoon (Friday)].

September was expected to be a month of high stakes politics in Washington as Republicans and Democrats wrangled over well worn issues of whether to raise the debt limit without corresponding cuts to federal spending and whether to pass a Continuing Resolution (CR) to keep the government operating when FY2018 begins on October 1 or shut it down as the President himself recently vowed if Congress did not fund his border wall with Mexico.

Mother Nature changed the equation, however.  The devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and Hurricane Irma that hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and now is headed to Florida has made keeping the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA’s) disaster relief coffers full and providing relief to victims of the storms a priority.

Added to that, President Trump’s decision to adopt a strategy proposed by congressional Democrats against the strong objections of many in his own party made a short-term deal possible.

First, the House passed a bill (H.R. 601, an unrelated bill that is being used as the legislative vehicle for this purpose) on Wednesday providing $7.85 billion in hurricane relief.  Then yesterday, the Senate essentially doubled the amount for hurricane relief and added the CR and debt limit and flood insurance extensions through December 8.  The House passed the Senate version this morning, in time to keep FEMA from running out of funds.

H.R. 601 —

  • provides $7.4 billion for FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund, $7.4 billion in emergency Community Development Block Grants to help communities rebuild, and $450 million for the Small Business Administration Disaster Loan program;
  • funds government operations at their FY2017 levels through December 8, 2017, reduced by 0.6791 percent;
  • extends the nation’s debt limit  through December 8, 2017; and
  • extends authorization of the National Flood Insurance program through December 8, 2017.

The result means that Congress will be able to spend its time this month on other issues, including the full year appropriations for FY2018.  The House began debate on Wednesday on a bill (H.R. 3354) that bundles together eight of the 12 regular appropriations bills.  It passed a bundle of the other four (H.R. 3219) in July. The Senate is continuing to mark up its bills.

Other issues, like tax reform and perhaps another round of debate on health care, could be addressed this month as well.

H.R. 601 is, however, only a short-term solution.  The $15.25 billion for hurricane relief is just a down payment on what could be a staggering amount needed to recover from the storms, and debate has barely begun over FY2018 budget priorities, including funding for the President’s border wall with Mexico, and how to lower the nation’s deficit.  The can was kicked down the road to December 8, but the fundamental issues remain.

For now, however, the September political storm has eased while Mother Nature’s fury is about to be unleashed on Florida.  NASA’s Kennedy  Space Center, near Cocoa Beach, FL,  is closed at least until Monday; the United Launch Alliance (ULA) has postponed a launch (NROL-42) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA so that its team members in Florida can focus on helping their families prepare for Irma; and the 45th Space Wing at Patrick Air Force Base, which operates Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, is in Hurricane Condition 4.


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