John Ashbery / AP

Republican leaders plan to use the emergency Hurricane Harvey aid to squeeze another must-pass item through Congress: the debt ceiling.

Sources with direct knowledge of the planning tell me the current strategy is for the House to pass a "clean" bill this week that funds the White House's request for $7.85 billion for the first phase of recovery from the hurricane.

What happens next— per multiple sources with direct knowledge — is that when the bill reaches the Senate, Republican leaders will attach a debt limit raise before sending it back to the House. (Attaching a debt ceiling raise is less controversial in the Senate than it is in the House, which has more conservative members. What I've described is Republican leadership's current thinking, as of Sunday afternoon... it could still change.)

Why this matters: Hurricane Harvey has opened a path to get one of the most controversial items off Republican leaders's backs. Conservative members won't vote to raise the debt ceiling without significant spending cuts, and Mark Meadows, chairman of the ultra-conservative House Freedom Caucus, has already said he thinks it's wrong to use hurricane funding to dodge this thorny issue.

  • By linking the debt ceiling to hurricane aid, leadership would put the Freedom Caucus in the excruciating position of having to vote against emergency aid for Texas's worst natural disaster.
  • A source with knowledge of the Freedom Caucus's plans tells me the group won't have a unified position on the Harvey/debt ceiling question until after they meet on Tuesday night.

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