The running joke is that the U.S. Congress is at its most productive when lawmakers are on their summer break, which seems about right.
Recess is over, however, the House and Senate have some serious work to get done, and they have only until the end of this month to work their magic.
Somehow, we believe this next few weeks will be a little different, thanks to Hurricane Harvey’s attacks on Texas and Louisiana.
Congress’ first order of business will be approving aid packages for storm-ravaged areas. President Trump has mentioned a sum just under $8 billion, but that’s really just seed money. Experts reckon the final costs associated with Harvey’s devastation will run close to $200 billion, making events of late last month one of the most destructive natural disasters in U.S. history.
But Congress can’t stop there. Other big storms are on the horizon, raising the federal government’s debt limit to avoid a default, which would be catastrophic for the nation’s economy, and saving young people from deportation are all on the agenda.
The debt ceiling needs to be raised so the government can stay in operation and pay its bills. Trump threw a scare into congressional members during their vacation time when he insisted funding government operations would be linked to an appropriation to build the wall between the U.S. and its southern neighbor, Mexico. The president said he supported a government shutdown over the wall funding.
He has since backed away from that threat, but during his most recent campaign rally in Arizona insisted Mexico would pay the costs of building such a barrier, a notion laughable to Mexico’s government officials.
Inter-government relations apparently are not among Trump’s art-of-the-deal talents, and in his first few months as president he has managed to alienate many of America’s staunchest supporters abroad.
Be that as it may, the mercurial, scattered activities at the White House cannot be allowed to distract members of Congress, because the heavy lifting on debt has to be accomplished in less than two weeks worth of working days.
It is difficult to imagine a Congress as bitterly divided by partisanship as this one is coming together on anything meaningful, but the truth is that funding government is an issue that transcends party politics.
Party loyalties will be in pay, however, and the burden falls heavily on Republicans, who hold majorities in both the House and Senate. If GOP leaders can’t get Democrats on board for approval of a higher debt ceiling and funding, the situation could implode quickly.
Republicans likely won’t get much help from their GOP president, who has demonstrated equal disdain and hostility toward leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress.
Meanwhile, Congress and the president must step up for storm victims in Texas and Louisiana while struggling with the debt limit and government operational funding problems.
These problems are piled on top of the GOP’s failed efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump’s campaign promise of tax reform, and how Congress will react to the president’s tirades against America’s international trade partners. One of those deals, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is thought to be on the verge of collapse.
Our advice to Republicans and Democrats in Congress is to ignore the contradictory bluster spewing out of the White House, and do the right thing for America and its citizens, the majority of whom could care less about partisan bickering.