- The Washington Times - Monday, August 28, 2017

As flooding intensified Monday in Texas and Louisiana, taxpayers are likely to be asked to pony up for a cleanup effort lasting years and costing tens of billions of dollars in federal assistance.

President Trump said the cleanup will be expensive but he expects no difficulties from Congress. Democrats and Republicans were eager to promise full cooperation.

Tens of thousands of people were reportedly still stranded by flooding Monday in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, which made landfall late last week and weakened to a tropical storm. By the time the storm leaves the region, it could drop 50 inches of rain in some places.

Ahead of a Tuesday trip to get a firsthand look at the situation, Mr. Trump told a Texas reporter at a press conference Monday that the federal government will take care of the state.

“You’re going to get your funding,” Mr. Trump said. “We think you’re going to have what you need, and it’s going to go fast.”

It was too early for coherent estimates of cleanup costs for Harvey, but Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012 resulted in federal aid packages of roughly $100 billion and $50 billion, respectively.

Texas Republicans who several years ago balked at what they said was a bloated price tag for Sandy are now among those asking for federal aid for their constituents.

That wasn’t lost on some of the New Yorkers who battled for money from Sandy.

“Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another,” Rep. Peter T. King, New York Republican, tweeted.

Sen. Ted Cruz, a Texas Republican who was stranded in Houston on Monday because of the flooding, said he stood by his 2013 vote against disaster relief for Sandy. He said Congress loaded up the bill with nonessential projects.

“As I said at the time, hurricane funding is a very important federal responsibility, and I would have eagerly supported funding for that. But I didn’t think it was appropriate to engage in pork-barrel spending where two-thirds of that bill was unrelated spending that had nothing to do with Sandy,” Mr. Cruz said Monday on CNBC. “It was simply politicians wasting money.”

Rep. Blake Farenthold, a Texas Republican who also voted against the Sandy aid package, said he had a problem with that bill because it sent money outside the areas that were directly affected. He also said past disaster relief bills have served as a “Christmas tree” for pork.

He said Congress should be able to pass an aid package for Harvey if lawmakers direct funding strictly toward disaster relief.

“If we start trying to hang other sorts of legislation on it, that’s going to create a problem [and] it’s something I’m going to fight against,” Mr. Farenthold said on MSNBC.

Congress already faces a number of quick deadlines when lawmakers return next week from a summer recess.

They will need to pass a new funding bill to keep the government open beyond Sept. 30 and raise the federal debt ceiling by the end of the month as well.

Whether hurricane money gets wrapped up in those fights remains to be seen, but Mr. Trump said he wouldn’t let a battle over his proposed border wall — which is already threatening a government shutdown showdown — snare Harvey relief.

“I think it has nothing to do with it, really,” he said. “I think this is separate. This is going to go really very, very quickly.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund had a balance of about $3.8 billion at the end of July. Costs associated with Harvey are likely to reach the tens of billions of dollars, and officials have estimated that as many as a half-million people could be applying for federal disaster relief.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called on Republicans to join Democrats in passing an aid package for Harvey. She noted that the National Flood Insurance Program — currently $24 billion in debt — is due to expire at the end of September.

“American families deserve to know that their government will be there for them when disaster strikes, without question and without hesitation,” said Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat. “Democrats will stand by the families whose lives have been upended by this devastation and will fight to help our communities bounce back stronger than ever.”

The IRS offered its own brand of assistance, saying those affected by the storm who had filings due Sept. 15 or Oct. 16 would be granted an extension until Jan. 31.

“This has been a devastating storm, and the IRS will move quickly to provide tax relief to hurricane victims,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The IRS will continue to closely monitor the storm’s aftermath, and we anticipate providing additional relief for other affected areas in the near future.”

Congress and the White House were already at odds over the shape of the federal budget before Harvey created the need for more spending.

Some Republicans want a massive spike in spending for defense, while Democrats say domestic needs have been shortchanged.

All the while, deficits are projected to continue growing.

During Hurricane Katrina, which struck the Gulf of Mexico coast in 2005, Republicans also controlled the House, Senate and White House. Lawmakers ended up in a fierce fight over whether Katrina money should be tacked onto the deficit or offset with cuts elsewhere.

Leading the charge for cuts was Rep. Mike Pence, who at the time was chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee. He led Operation Offset to try to identify other places to trim in the budget to pay for Katrina spending, as well as a prescription drug program that had been added to Medicare.

Mr. Pence is now the vice president, which could add pressure to the administration to try to find cuts to offset spending for Harvey recovery.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide