After an August recess that offered little respite, for Republicans at least, Congress will return to session Tuesday with plenty to do and little time to do it in. Hurricane Harvey has further complicated an urgent need to raise the debt ceiling while simultaneously dealing with an agenda from the president that has become increasingly divergent from that of his own party.
Related: Hurricane Harvey help: Why Congress will struggle to aid Texas storm victims
Already, a package for an initial $5.9 billion in hurricane aid requested by Congress has been prepared by the White House, according to reports. The package, which will represent just a small fraction of the total support required for victims of the historic flooding, is likely to go to a vote next week, though the White House did not say Friday whether it would be tied to a deal to raise the debt ceiling. A agreement on raising the borrowing limit must be reached by September 30 in order to avoid a government shutdown.
The House Freedom Caucus has already said it will oppose combining the debt-limit increase with funding for Harvey relief.
“The Harvey relief would pass on its own, and to use that as a vehicle to get people to vote for a debt ceiling is not appropriate,” the caucus’s chairman, Representative Mark Meadows, said an interview with The Washington Post Thursday.
For House conservatives, there is no appetite to increase the debt limit without including spending cuts.
“Why would we do a clean bill with a Republican president?” Representative Dave Brat of Virginia, a member of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, said Wednesday. “We need some kind of fiscal reforms here.”
This could set up a scenario where a stopgap bill is passed to keep the government running through December. That could also be the time when Trump’s demands for Congress to fund his planned border wall come to a head, despite the president last week claiming he was ready to close down the government in order to “get that wall.”
Those are far from the only items on Congress’s agenda. Much to the dismay of many Republicans, Trump has refused to allow attempts to repeal and replace Obamacare, which were dramatically defeated on the Senate floor in July, to die. Yet, with the relationship between Trump and Republicans having soured yet further since then, it is now likely to be even more of an uphill struggle.
“We’re not going back to health care,” Senator Orrin Hatch said last month. “We’re in tax now. As far as I’m concerned, they shot their wad on health care and that’s the way it is. I’m sick of it.”
Indeed, tax reform is supposed to be the next big legislative push from the White House and Republicans. Trump went out on the road this week, to Springfield, Missouri, in an attempt to sell an overhaul of the tax code. Yet, beyond speaking of it in populist terms, he provided few details of what the plan would look like.
Those details appear to remain some way off, with National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn saying Friday that the plans currently had only a “skeleton and framework for what taxes need to look like.”