A historically unprecedented volume of rain falling on America’s fourth-largest city inducing massive floods that shut the area down for days should be enough news for a week. But Hurricane Harvey — and the need to finance relief and reconstruction — is heading into a September legislative calendar that’s already packed to the brim with must-pass bills. Meanwhile, the Trump administration is stirring up controversy outside of the legislative process by taking new action against the Affordable Care Act and floating action against the young DREAMers offered relief from deportation by the Obama administration way back in 2012.
Here’s what you need to know.
Devastating floods hit Texas and Louisiana
The double-dip of Hurricane Harvey, which slammed into the Texas coast, stalled out, went back to sea, and then made a second landfall as a tropical storm, dumped catastrophic levels of rain on Houston and other communities in Eastern Texas and Southern Louisiana.
- A successful response: Dozens died in the storm and thousands were displaced, but a combination of state and federal emergency responders and citizen volunteers seem to have successfully evacuated the vast majority of people in need.
- Trump’s first crisis: Skeptics have long wondered how the Trump administration would focus in a crisis and the answer seems to be — just fine. FEMA chief Brock Long is an experienced disaster relief manager, Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Elizabeth Duke is a career government pro, and there’s been no repeat of Katrina-like blunders.
- A long recovery: Even as waters recede, the damage to Houston and other communities will take a long time to repair and Houston is so large that the economic consequences will be felt nationwide. Consultancy Macroeconomic Advisers expects quarterly GDP growth to be curbed by somewhere between 0.3 and 1.2 percentage points.
Congress is facing a busy September
Harvey is rapidly depleting FEMA’s disaster relief fund, meaning Congress will have to appropriate more money in September. Since Ted Cruz represents Texas, he won’t be leading conservative opposition to disaster relief spending the way he did in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. But the legislative agenda is already crowded with “must-pass” items.
- The basics: The government will shut down on September 30 unless Congress passes new appropriations bills or a continuing resolution, the federal government is separately running out of borrowing authority sometime in September, and both FEMA’s disaster relief fund and the federal flood insurance program are out of money.
- Problems on the right: Democrats would likely be happy to pony up the extra money, extend borrowing authority, and pass a CR. But conservatives in the House say they don’t want to extend the debt ceiling without spending cuts. And the Trump administration at least nominally says it won’t keep the government open unless Congress provides some money for a border wall.
- What’s next: Potentially chaos, government shutdowns, national insolvency, and catastrophe. But most likely the widely agreed-upon need to address the hurricane will be just the excuse everyone needs to kick the can for a few months on overall government funding and have the wall fight later.
Trump is cutting Obamacare marketing to the bone
The Trump administration announced Thursday that it will slash the Obamacare advertising budget by 90 percent while also reducing in-person outreach spending by millions. They can’t repeal the program, but they can try to minimize the number of people who sign up for it.
- Why it matters: A lack of marketing will likely disproportionately depress sign-ups among people who are relatively healthy, which will drive up premiums and further discourage less-subsidized customers from signing up.
- Stealth repeal? Part of the thinking here may be that if fewer people are enrolled in the program it will be easier to repeal in the future. But advertising shouldn’t impact Medicaid expansion at all, and rolling that back was in many ways the biggest impediment to repeal all along.
- What’s next: The absolute amount of money in play here is not enormous, and states whose governments want to have successful insurance marketplaces should be able to easily fill the gap. But that points to growing divergence in outcomes between politically liberal states — which are more urbanized and generally have more competitive, lower-cost marketplaces anyway — and politically conservative ones.
DACA is hanging in the balance
Nothing official was announced, but rumors flew all week that Trump is ready to pull the trigger on ending the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — a move that will be controversial within his own party if he takes it, but that would fulfill a campaign promise and very much be in line with his anti-immigration views.
- Who’s affected: DACA, created in 2012, offers protection from deportation and work permits to US residents who arrived illegally in the United States before 2007 and while they were 15 or younger. To qualify, they need a nearly spotless criminal record and be enrolled in high school or have a high school diploma or equivalent. About 1.3 million people are eligible for DACA and about 800,000 have actually applied and gotten it.
- Trump’s under time pressure: A group of Republican attorneys general opposed to DACA have given the Trump administration a September 5 deadline before they file suit to try to get the courts to declare that Obama exceeded his authority when he created the program. That would force Trump to either end the program or officially endorse it by opposing the lawsuit.
- Congress could help DACA recipients: A bipartisan group of senators has legislation called the BRIDGE Act that would protect DACA recipients from deportation and render the litigation moot. To stand a chance of passing, however, Paul Ryan and the GOP leadership would need to allow it to come to the floor for a vote — something he’s shown no interest in doing.