Government affairs

Legislative Updates

First week back: Congress approves temporary government funding, debt ceiling, and Harvey relief

Congress finished its first week of business after returning from the August recess on Tuesday. Lawmakers came back to a packed schedule, and quickly got to work on three time-sensitive issues.

First issue addressed was the country’s borrowing authority, or “debt ceiling.” The debt ceiling is the legal cap on how much money the federal government can borrow to fund its budget deficits and meet debt obligations. Failure to meet its obligations could result in the country defaulting on its debts, in a downgrading of its credit rating, and could potentially cause a financial crash.

The second was responding to Hurricane Harvey, the tropical storm that has left the state of Texas in desperate need of resources. With an immediate response needed on both issues, Congress chose to include temporary government funding for Fiscal Year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, to punt until December lengthy and contentious debate on how to address long-term funding and agency cuts.

The House of Representatives voted Friday morning on a package to raise the debt ceiling until Dec. 8, to fund the government through the same date, and to provide $15.25 billion in disaster aid as a response to Hurricane Harvey. The bill passed the Senate the day before in an 80-17 vote. The House voted 316-90 in favor of the package.

The 90 lawmakers who voted against the bill were Republicans, predominantly members of the Republican Study Committee, the largest GOP caucus in the House. They opposed bundling emergency aid with funding and debt ceiling suspension, preferring that any aid measures should be part of an independent bill and also want spending offsets in exchange for debt ceiling increases and continued government funding.

As this was posted, the White House was expected to sign the bill. The effort demonstrated a rare moment of bipartisanship on Capitol Hill.

Next week, Congress will return to work on numerous defense bills as well as the Make America Secure Appropriations Act (H.R. 3219), which passed the House of Representatives on July 27 and sets $790 billion in appropriations for Defense, the Legislative Branch, Military Construction-Veterans Affairs, and Energy and Water Development. That measure, which members rushed to pass before leaving town for the recess, leaves a remaining eight appropriations measures to be considered by the House. Those bills would fund: Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies; Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; Homeland Security; Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies; State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs; and Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies.

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