Congress eyes vote next week on Harvey aid

Congress is gearing up for a vote as early as next week on a multibillion-dollar down payment on relief aid for Harvey.

White House and congressional aides said Thursday an emergency request to replenish rapidly shrinking aid reserves is coming from the Trump administration within days and that votes in both the House and Senate would quickly follow.

Members of the Texas and Louisiana delegation are pressing for immediate action when lawmakers return to Capitol Hill next week from their summer recess, and they have pledges from top GOP leaders such as Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., that the House will quickly respond. McCarthy told lawmakers from Texas and Louisiana on a conference call late Wednesday, “We are with you,” a GOP aide said Thursday.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is spending existing disaster aid reserves — just $2.1 billion as of Thursday — at a high rate. But only about $600 million of that is officially available for Harvey relief under FEMA rules, so the administration on Thursday asked top lawmakers for permission to “reprogram” another $500 million to ease the cash crunch.

“The president has made very clear that he is here to help and has made very clear he will do what is needed whether it is to implore Congress next week to come up with the funding for those who are affected,” White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends.”

The initial aid money would be a down payment for immediate recovery efforts — to be followed by larger packages later. It will take weeks or months to assess the full extent of the damage and the needs.

Houston Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee has already said it could take an aid package of $150 billion to handle the disaster.

It’s not yet known how much money the administration will ask for in the initial request, but congressional aides expect at least enough money to carry out relief efforts through the Sept. 30 end of the budget year.

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