WASHINGTON â€” Having just returned from a monthlong recess, the House is racing toÂ vote Wednesday on a nearly $7.9 billion disaster aid package to help Texas and Louisiana rebuild in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
The measure is the first of several installments Congress is expected to consider.
The Senate is expected to follow suit possibly later this weekÂ with a vote on a relief package, but Majority Leader Mitch McConnell signaled Tuesday that the measure couldÂ be tied to efforts by Republican leaders and President Trump to also raise the nation’s debt limit.Â
â€œI know that securing this emergency funding is very important for the president and I know that preventing a default or (government) shutdown amidst such a historic natural disaster is also very important to him,â€™â€™ McConnell said on the Senate floor. â€œAnd even more so with another major hurricane on the way.”
Hurricane Irma is headed toward islands in the Caribbean and is could hit Florida later in the week.
McConnell said his top priorities are passing a disaster aid bill, preventing a government default and funding the government.Â
â€œWe have get all three of these things done and we have to do it very quickly,” he said.Â â€œIn the case of the debt limit, we need to act quickly given the new uncertainty from the large cost of storm recovery.”
Trump requested a first installment ofÂ emergency spending, including $7.4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agencyâ€™s disaster relief fund and $450,000 for the Small Business Administrationâ€™s disaster loan program.
Rep. RodneyÂ Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the funding will help states affected by Hurricane Harvey with immediate recovery efforts.
â€œIt is time to come together as a country to help one another and assist the individuals, families, and communities who have suffered so greatly,”Â Frelinghuysen saidÂ in a statement Monday. â€œThese funds are needed and they are needed now.”
Harvey, which came ashore Aug. 25 as a Category 4 hurricane, caused major flooding in Texas, killing at least 60 people and destroying tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The storm also drenched coastal Louisiana several days later.
State and federal officials are still calculating the cost of damages, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has said it could exceed $125 billion in his state.
Trump visited the region Saturday, touringÂ areas in Texas hit hard by Harvey and stopping briefly in Louisiana. The president, who had also gone to Texas earlier last week, vowed to push Congress to act quickly on disaster relief.
â€œWeâ€™ve pledged our full support as Texas and Louisiana battle and recover from this very devastating and historic storm,â€ Trump said.
The disaster relief fund had about $1 billion as of Sept. 5, according to FEMA. Of that, $541 million was immediately available for response and recovery efforts related to Harvey.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., called this week’sÂ disaster aid package the â€œfirst step.â€™â€™
“Families and communities affected by Hurricane Harvey have a long road ahead, and the House will be with them every step of the way,” he said in statement.
Hurricane Harvey relief fund started by J.J. Watt hits $20 million
Congress has crucial to-do list in September: What lawmakers must accomplish
The House relief bill is not tied to debt limit.
Some conservative lawmakers haveÂ raised concerns the Senate willÂ try to tie the aid to an effort to raise the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow more money.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has warned the government will run out of money to pay its bills by Sept. 29 unless lawmakers vote to raise the debt limit.
Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said his panel is also ready to move quickly on disaster aid.
â€œOur committee is prepared to do its part to make resources available to those affected by Hurricane Harvey through the Disaster Relief Fund and other federal channels,â€™â€™ he said in a statement.
Money for agencyâ€™s disaster relief fund has been a divisive issue in Congress in the past, with some Democrats arguing it should be approved immediately to help disaster victims and spur recovery efforts and some Republicans demanding that any increase in disaster aid be contingent on spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
The push for more Harvey aid could also face challenges from conservative lawmakers who have raised concerns about disaster aid packages that include funds for unrelated projects.
Contributing: Erin Kelly and Gregory Korte
A link has been posted to your Facebook feed.
Paul England, Jr. helps Michael Brown, not pictured, search for belongings inside his flooded home, in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Harvey, in Port Arthur, Texas, Saturday, Sept. 2, 2017.Â
Gerald Herbert, AP
Alice Liu (from left), 6, Harper Norton, 3, Linda Liu, 11, and Vickie Liu, 3, wait while their moms, including Jianhong Sue (right) register the older children for school at the Flour Bluff Independent School District. Their home school district will be closed indefinitely.Â
Rachel Denny Clow, Caller-Times