The possible need to give hurricane relief funds to Texas could be an X-factor for Congress as it hustles to pass spending bills before October and avoid a government shutdown -- and the kind of political struggles that Republicans faced with 2012’s Superstorm Sandy.
Congress is on recess until after Labor Day and will have less than four weeks upon its return to pass 12 spending bills to keep the government fully operational past Sept. 30. Their passage is already overdue. And negotiations could be complicated by the need to draft another, seperate bill to provide potentially billions in Hurricane Harvey relief money.
Trump has already made the spending-bill situation more complicated, by again suggesting last week that he’d veto any spending resolution that doesn’t include money for his proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall.
In addition, Congress must also agree to increase the federal debt ceiling or default on its financial obligation. The situation has pitted the administration against fiscal conservatives in Congress.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reiterated Friday that he wants Congress to raise the debt limit by the end of the month, as conservative lawmakers argue there’s no plan to offset a debt-ceiling increase with spending cuts.
In January 2013, the GOP-led House approved a special spending bill to help rebuild the Eastern seaboard and New York City, lashed the previous October by hurricaine-like Superstorm Sandy.
However, the bill passed with the support of just 49 Republicans, which as a result required “yeah” votes from 179 of 180 House Democrats.
The vote was noteworthy because then-House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, held it despite deep opposition from the super-majority of his own party.
The Sandy request was in essence a 13th spending bill, sometimes called a supplemental appropriations bill, was destine to drive up the deficit.
The storm was exceptionally expensive, which was why many Republicans demanded offsets to the primary $60 billion supplemental request to keep the federal deficit from exploding.
With Harvey, nobody knows for certain whether there will be federal need to cough up a supplemental spending bill to help Texas recover. However, the state’s congressional delegation wields a lot of clout.
Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn is the second-most-powerful member of the Senate. And three Texas Republicans lead House Appropriations subcommittees, which control the federal purse strings. They are Reps. John Carter, Kay Granger and John Culberson.
The question is how bad the storm will be and how much the recovery will cost. The answers could take weeks -- just about the time the House and Senate are trying to address funding the entire federal government and avoiding a debt crisis.