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Eye of the Storm: Can Congress Pass a Budget and Help for Harvey Victims in 12 Days?

Next Tuesday, Congress returns from its August Recess. From there, Congress only has twelve working days in the Capitol scheduled for September. Obviously, this calendar was devised before Hurricane Harvey. Still, one must ask: How on earth will they be able to pass a budget, advance some sort of “tax reform”, and pass emergency assistance for Harvey victims in such a short amount of time?

So much to do, so little time. (No, really.)

Even before a Category 4 hurricane developed off the Gulf Coast, Congress was in for stormy weather this fall. The federal government’s fiscal year ends on September 30. Since Congress and the White House could only agree upon a continuing resolution through the end of this fiscal year, the federal government will shut down on October 1 unless Congress can pass some sort of spending authorization before then.

At the same time, the White House and Congressional Republican leaders have been promising tax reform ever since their attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act failed. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce now expects Republicans to deliver on their promise of lower corporate tax rates. Will there be anything in their “reform” package for the not-wealthy? We don’t even know what exactly they mean by “tax reform”, as neither the White House nor Congressional Republicans have released any detailed proposals.

But with Republicans feuding with each other and the Trump Administration continues to burn down any remaining bridges with Democrats, how can Congress realistically agree upon a budget and a tax deal with only one month to go?

Will this be Trump’s latest manufactured crisis?

Though Congressional Republicans manufactured crises during the Obama Presidency, Donald Trump has taken it next level during his first seven months in office. Even as Hurricane Harvey was approaching Texas last weekend, Trump manufactured more crises with a ban on transgender military service, a pardon for anti-immigrant conspiracy theorist and ex-Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, and continued stonewalling of the investigations into the Trump family’s murky relationships with the Russian government.

On top of all that, Trump is threatening a government shutdown next month if Congress doesn’t approve funding for his Mexican border wall. On Sunday, the Mexican government reiterated it will not pay for a wall it doesn’t want. Instead of working on some sort of budget agreement, Trump is already blaming House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) for not raising the debt ceiling earlier. All this, and there’s now a hurricane in the mix.

Will the disaster relief effort become a disaster itself?

Though Republican leaders have suggested emergency legislation to assist Hurricane Harvey victims will emerge next week, some in their ranks are demanding budget cuts to “offset” emergency assistance. Texans in harm’s way will turn to the National Flood Insurance Program and other FEMA relief efforts for help, even as the National Flood Insurance Program is already saddled with $24 billion in debt and set to expire at the end of the month (if Congress doesn’t reauthorize). Already, Republicans in Congress are demanding a “great debate” on the proper role of government… While Harvey victims are looking to their elected government to provide some needed relief now.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) is demanding federal assistance for his state, even as he continues to condemn a similar 2013 aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims as “a bill filled with pork”. Meanwhile, Trump continues to obsess over crowd sizes, photo ops, and TV ratings as Houston’s dams begin to spill over. When the nation should be coming together to assist Harvey victims in need, Trump and his allies are doing everything possible to rip this country further apart.

It’s bad enough that the nation can’t have the certainty of knowing whether the federal government will remain fully functioning in October. Now that Harvey is here, this White House and this Congress need to get their priorities in order. Thus far, there’s scant evidence that Republican leaders on either end of Pennsylvania Avenue are doing so. That right there is a recipe for disaster.

Cover photo by NASA Earth Observatory

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