Congress is already facing a massive legislative calendar when it returns to Washington after Labor Day. But on top of a spending bill to fund the government, dealing with the debt ceiling, the fate of Obamacare, and tax reform, the devastation caused by Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas will be added to the “To Do” list.
It hasn’t been that long since Congress dealt with Superstorm Sandy after it hit the U.S. east coast in 2013, which resulted in a $50 billion aid package packed with pork payouts that had nothing to do with the storm or its victims.
But the timing of this disaster means Congress will most likely put funding for Harvey into the spending bill to fund the federal government as a short-term way to address the disaster.
With Republicans in charge of both chambers, it should be easier to put in place a relief plan that doesn’t seem like a choice between helping fellow Americans who are suffering and governing based on conservative principles.
“It should be done rationally,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) told Breitbart News. “Disasters happen and we want to help the people in Texas.”
But, Brat said, the outcome of the spending bill should be determined by the majority party.
“The American people know we won and who should be making the calls,” Brat said, adding that the Republicans “totally failed” on healthcare reforms and they shouldn’t repeat the mistake in the upcoming session.
David Inserra, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said it is more difficult to vote against spending when it’s to help with a disaster like Harvey, given the humanity of such a situation.
“But you can do so in a way that is responsible,” Inserra told Breitbart News, adding that he is an advocate of making sure funds are set aside for disasters so it doesn’t become a political football.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters on Wednesday that he expects federal relief costs will far exceed the roughly $120 billion that aided cleanup and response after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the Washington Post reported.
The bill passed in 2013 by Congress and signed into law by former President Barack Obama was an affront to conservatives who voted against it because of spending unrelated to Sandy, including money for damaged fisheries in Alaska, roof repairs for the Smithsonian Institution, and a HUD slush fund to provide community block grants.
President Trump could request a package of emergency funding to deal with the damage caused by Tropical Storm Harvey as soon as next week, a senior administration official told the Post, rearranging the political agenda as the White House tries to deal with the storm’s devastation.
“The funding package is expected to only be a partial downpayment and serve in part to backstop depleted reserves that the [FEMA] had on hand to respond to disasters,” the Post reported.
“No final decision on the funding request has been made and it could fluctuate based on conversations with lawmakers,” the Post reported.
President Donald Trump on Monday expressed confidence in Congress.
“I think you’re going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president,” Trump said. “You’re going to get your funding.”
“I’ve already spoken to Congress, and everybody feels for you,” Trump said.
Vice President Mike Pence said 22,000 people had already applied for federal aid, but that as “many as a half-a-million people in Texas will be eligible for and applying for financial disaster assistance.”
“We remain very confident that with the reserves and with the support in the Congress, we’ll have the resources that we need,” Pence said in a Washington Post report on Pence’s interview on KHOU radio.
“We will help those affected by this terrible disaster,” House Speaker Paul Ryan’s spokeswoman AshLee Strong said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) reports that $3.3 billion is left in its Disaster Relief Fund, but that Harvey is “quickly drawing down the remaining balance.”
But Poltico’s report on the addition of Harvey to the September mix paints a more sinister scenario that could unfold inside the Capitol, at least for conservatives.
“The thinking is that the extra element of Harvey funding could actually be a boon for GOP leaders who were already planning to ditch their most conservative flank on key fiscal votes and who have long been resigned to needing Democrats to get must-pass spending legislation to the president,” Politico reported.
“The wise thing to do would be to attach it to the CR,” a defense lobbyist told Politico. “It avoids the shutdown fight.”
And “bundling Harvey funds with the typically toxic vote to raise the debt limit could also be advantageous,” Politico reported.
“Besides solidifying support from the minority party, the disaster money could guarantee support from the Texas delegation — the largest GOP contingent in Congress, with 25 Republicans — as well as other Republicans who want to support disaster relief, even if they don’t like the underlying spending measures,” Politico reported.
“The political need to sweeten a vote could take precedence,” a senior Democratic aide told Politico. “A lot of Republicans are going to want to vote for it.”