Both chambers of Congress returned from the August Recess this week with a “to do list” which includes the increasing debt ceiling, avoiding a federal government shutdown, Hurricane Harvey disaster relief, tax reform, flood insurance and Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. 

President Trump surprised key senior Republican lawmakers on Wednesday when he agreed to a deal with the Democratic leadership to extend the debt ceiling and postpone a possible federal government shutdown until December.  President Trump backed the Democratic plan to extend the debt ceiling and fund the government for three months, combined with a Harvey relief package, after a meeting with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-New York).  The President’s deal is a split from Republican leaders, including Speaker Ryan who criticized the Democrats’ push for a short-term debt-ceiling solution as “disgraceful” and “playing with politics” on an important issue.  Striking a deal with the minority party is likely to erode trust between President Trump and Republican lawmakers at a critical juncture in the legislative calendar.

The Hurricane Harvey aid package is continuing to grow in size as it works its way through Congress.  Senate Appropriations Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Mississippi) has added $7.4 billion in Community Development Block grants to the package, bringing its total price tag to $15.25 billion.  The Continuing Resolution and short-term debt limit suspension being added to the bill also changed overnight.  The bill will lose several votes from conservatives in the House in retaliation to the President’s decision to side with Democrats, instead of backing an 18-month and six-month proposal submitted by Republicans.  Included in the bill is an amendment that provides authority for the U.S. Forest Service to repay any funds transferred to cover fiscal year 2017 shortfalls in wildland firefighting operations.  As Congress continues to produce Harvey relief packages, lawmakers from western states such as California, Oregon, and Montana, will push for wildfire relief.  The House Committee on Natural Resources posted an op-ed this week, urging Congress to address forest management reform.  Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) supports inclusion of forest management provisions in the Harvey aid packages but insists a stand-alone bill is necessary to address the damage caused by wildfires in the West.