Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro (Texas) on Wednesday called for a clean Hurricane Harvey relief bill and a separate debt ceiling increase, contradicting Democratic leaders in Congress who want both items in a single package.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said they would only sign onto a three-month debt ceiling increase, which would set up another debt showdown in December, with the Harvey relief package included. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) responded that such a plan is "ridiculous" and called for Democrats not to threaten default when the government is dealing with natural disasters.
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President Donald Trump on Wednesday defied Republican congressional leaders who want to raise the debt ceiling through late 2018 and agreed to Democrats' demands, Politico reported.
Before Trump's decision, Castro said that the debt ceiling and Harvey aid should be different bills but that Congress should pass both.
"I think for most Democrats, we believe this should be a clean bill. We should be able to vote on Hurricane Harvey relief," Castro said on CNN. "That that should be separate from the debt ceiling. But it's a decision that's going to be made by the speaker and Mitch McConnell. Now, I support increasing the debt ceiling, so I happen to agree with both of those things. But still, I think that we would prefer that they be separate."
Democratic leaders want to tie Harvey aid to a debt ceiling increase for only three months, which would set up a fiscal cliff in December that Democrats could leverage to secure other agenda items.
CNN host Kate Bolduan asked Castro whether it was playing politics to tie Harvey relief to the debt ceiling. Castro responded that no "games" should threaten aid to Texans.
"Well, I would prefer that it be clean," he said. "We have to make sure, most of all, that people don't play any games and threaten the aid to the people of Texas because they're trying to also achieve something else."
It is possible that Schumer and Pelosi alluded to "something else" in their joint statement calling for a short-term debt increase. They mentioned working to address DACA recipients and health care funding alongside Harvey and the debt ceiling.
"Given Republican difficulty in finding the votes for their plan, we believe this proposal offers a bipartisan path forward to ensure prompt delivery of Harvey aid as well as avoiding a default, while both sides work together to address government funding, DREAMers, and health care," Schumer and Pelosi said.
Ryan said Wednesday that Democrats should not use the debt ceiling to obtain concessions from Republicans while Harvey aid hangs in the balance.
"I think that's a ridiculous idea. I hope they don't mean that," Ryan said, answering a question about their joint statement. "We've got all this devastation in Texas. We've got another unprecedented hurricane about to hit Florida, and they want to play politics with the debt ceiling?"
Castro conceded that Congress may have to settle on a short-term debt ceiling increase. He allowed for the possiblity of a deal closer to what Schumer and Pelosi called for.
"You know, if you look at the last few years in the Congress, things have been happening on a shorter timetable, " Castro said. "Extensions that used to go for two years or a year, now have been going for six months or even three months."