Dark clouds hover over the U.S. Capitol on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson, Getty Images)

Spending bill would slash disaster relief by $1B to fund Trump’s border wall

WASHINGTON — Disaster relief after Harvey-caused epic flooding in Texas tops an already crowded agenda when President Donald Trump meets next week with House and Senate leaders at the White House.

Lawmakers return from the August break facing multiple legislative deadlines and a need to replenish dwindling disaster aid coffers. One of the first items in the House is a massive spending bill that would slash almost $1 billion from disaster accounts to help finance Trump’s U.S.-Mexico border wall. That disaster relief cut appears sure to be reversed as floodwaters cover Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city, and more than 17,000 Texans have sought refuge in shelters.

Harvey aid is a fresh addition to an agenda already packed with must-do tasks: Passing a stopgap spending bill to avert a government shutdown; increasing the government’s borrowing authority to prevent a market-quaking default on U.S. obligations; and paving the way for a GOP rewrite of the U.S. tax code.

The week’s meeting follows a recess that has seen Trump lambast several top Republicans, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after the collapse of the GOP health care bill in his chamber. That has wounded the president’s relationship with his own party, and the coming weeks should offer a test of how much clout he has with fellow Republicans.

McConnell is scheduled to attend next Wednesday morning’s White House meeting, according to congressional aides. Also going are House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the aides said. They spoke on condition of anonymity to describe a meeting that hadn’t yet been announced.

Despite Trump’s promise at a rally in Phoenix last week to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border even “if we have to close down our government,” congressional Republicans are optimistic of averting a politically damaging shutdown after the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

For one thing, most Republicans, including Trump, want to move on to a sweeping revamp of the tax code, and a shutdown debacle would only make tax legislation more difficult. A tax overhaul, cutting rates for individuals and businesses while erasing numerous tax breaks and loopholes, is difficult enough as it stands.

Like the failed push to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law, the tax effort is likely to encounter strong Democratic opposition and divisions among Republicans, leaving its fate uncertain.

The massive, ongoing flooding caused by Harvey means that officials still don’t know how much aid the metropolis will need to recover, but it’s expected to be many billions of dollars. A possible outcome is one or even two infusions of immediate aid next month, with a longer-term recovery package coming by year’s end.