Conservatives balk over plan to link Harvey aid, debt ceiling
© Greg Nash

Congressional conservatives are warning GOP leadership to back down from a plan to tie Hurricane Harvey aid to a debt ceiling increase, setting up an intraparty fight as soon as this week. 

Three Republicans — Sens. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOvernight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Lawmakers struggle with how to punish Saudi Arabia | Trump regrets not visiting Arlington for Veterans Day | North Korea deports detained American Hillicon Valley: Facebook reeling after NYT report | Dems want DOJ probe | HQ2 brings new scrutiny on Amazon | Judge upholds Russian troll farm indictments | Cyber moonshot panel unveils recommendations Overnight Defense — Presented by Raytheon — Border deployment 'peaked' at 5,800 troops | Trump sanctions 17 Saudis over Khashoggi killing | Senators offer bill to press Trump on Saudis | Paul effort to block Bahrain arms sale fails MORE (Ky.), Mike LeeMichael (Mike) Shumway LeeTrump’s backing may not be enough on criminal justice reform Senators introduce Trump-backed criminal justice bill Senators return to Washington intent on action against Saudis MORE (Utah) and Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzDemocratic strategist warns Beto should be ‘careful’ with social media presence Hillary advisers battle over whether she’ll run in 2020 O'Rourke writes blog post describing a literal run from near the capitol to near the White House MORE (Texas) — have said they are opposed to linking hurricane relief to a "clean" debt ceiling increase. 
"I think we need to move quickly and provide the relief that is needed. And the best way for that relief package to move quickly is for it to be a clean package, not to be loaded down with extraneous issues," Cruz, whose state was hit hard by the hurricane, told reporters. 
Cruz didn't say if he would vote for a "clean" debt ceiling increase if it's tied to Harvey aid. 
"I'm not going to play a game of hypotheticals," he said, adding he is "confident" Congress will pass hurricane relief.
Conn Carroll, a spokesman for Lee, said the Utah Republican is also opposed to leadership's plan. 
When asked if Lee's decision is based on his opposition to a "clean" debt ceiling increase, or because the senator doesn't support linking a debt ceiling increase to hurricane relief, Carroll said, "Both." 
Conservatives have warned for months against passing a "clean" debt ceiling hike. The vote, once considered routine, has become a political lightening rod for lawmakers and outside groups that support spending cuts or entitlement reform. 
Paul is signaling he will try to block the White House and GOP leadership from trying to link to the two issues. Any one senator could use the Senate's rulebook to drag out the debt debate for days.
"I'll do anything to try to stop that," he told CNN.
Ten conservative outside groups sent a letter to GOP leadership on Wednesday warning a debt limit increase "risks more frustration in the conservative movement with congressional Republicans." 
“I think that exploiting this hurricane and people who lost their houses to allow business as usual in Washington of getting an 18 month increase to our nation's debt limit passed ... makes absolutely no sense," Heritage Action CEO Mike Needham told Fox News in a recent interview. 
The House on Wednesday passed a nearly $8 billion standalone Harvey relief bill. Once the legislation makes it over the Senate, leadership could link a debt-ceiling increase to the bill. 
The maneuver to package the two issues together would require the House to take a second vote on hurricane relief, including a debt ceiling increase. 
If conservatives balk over the agreement, GOP leadership will need to lean on Democrats to get enough votes to pass the deal in both the House and the Senate. 
Republicans will need the support of at least eight Senate Democrats to overcome a 60-vote procedural requirement. 
Sen. John CornynJohn CornynTrump’s backing may not be enough on criminal justice reform Congress should ban life without parole sentences for children  Senate GOP discussing Mueller vote MORE (R-Texas), the No. 2 Senate Republican, signaled on Tuesday that Republicans were prepared to tie Harvey aid to the debt fight. 
"It's imperative that we get that supplemental passed. And the leader has made the decision to attach the debt limit to that, and I support that," Cornyn said.
It's unclear how long of a debt ceiling increase Republicans are considering. 
Top Democrats pitched a deal on Wednesday that would include a three-month debt limit increase with the hurricane relief funding. 
The move could give Democrats leverage in a slew of fall fights, including immigration and an end-of-the-year government funding deal. 
"They want to play politics with the debt ceiling?" he asked reporters. "It could put in jeopardy the kind of hurricane response we need to have."