The top Senate and House Democrat on Wednesday said their party will support an aid package for Hurricane Harvey combined with an increase in the debt limit for three months — a proposal that House Speaker Paul Ryan called “ridiculous” and “unworkable.”
The offer from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi comes as lawmakers face end-of-September deadlines to avoiding risking default on the national debt and funding the government.
Pairing disaster aid with the often politically contentious debt ceiling vote is seen as making it easier for Congress to raise the debt limit. The House plans to take up the Harvey aid package on Wednesday, though some conservatives have said they will resist combining it with a debt ceiling increase.
“Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default, while both sides work together to address government funding, DREAMers, and health care,” Schumer and Pelosi said in a joint statement.
Ryan appeared to take issue specifically with the three-month extension timeline rather than pairing the two measures in the first place. He accused the Democratic leaders of “playing politics” and jeopardizing the federal response to Harvey by calling for a short-term debt limit hike.
“What the leaders you just described proposed is unworkable and it could put in jeopardy the kind of hurricane response we need to have,” Ryan said. “To play politics with the debt ceiling like Schumer and Pelosi apparently are doing I don’t think is a good idea.”
An extension of only three months for the debt ceiling could give Democrats leverage over the majority Republicans.
Schumer and Pelosi have not insisted on combining legislation to pass the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program into law with measures to either raise the debt ceiling or fund the government. President Donald Trump on Tuesday ended the Obama-era DACA program protecting hundreds of thousands of young people from deportation, with a six-month delay to allow Congress to approve a bill extending it.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn, R-Texas, among others, support attaching aid to the debt bill. Conservatives like Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have voiced opposition to doing so.
Asked Wednesday if he could support the Democrats’ three-month extension proposal, Trump said “we’ll see.”
The Trump administration has requested nearly $8 billion in disaster relief funding. Ryan on Wednesday said “we will not leave” until the relief package is passed.