Congress already faces a daunting legislative session when it returns to Washington on Tuesday. But the massive destruction left in the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey in Texas and Louisiana adds even more urgency — and fiscal maneuvering — as lawmakers craft a spending bill to keep the federal government operating.
When President Donald Trump introduced his fiscal year 2018 budget it called for billions of dollars in cuts across all of the federal government — “$57.3 billion in discretionary programs, including $26.7 billion in program eliminations and $30.6 billion in reductions,” according to the Office of Management and budget.
The president has already put in a formal request to Congress asking for a $7.9 billion down payment for Harvey relief.
But now that FEMA is taking the lead in helping Harvey survivors to the tune of billions of dollars, lawmakers are taking a new look at the proposed funding cuts to the agency, even if many of those cuts don’t directly affect its ability to fulfill its disaster-relief mission — i.e. funds to state and local governments to fight terrorism, duplication of programs and unused surpluses from FEMA to states and local governments.
GOP Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) is the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
“By the end of last week, lawmakers were already publicly saying the [spending] bill, which was crafted by the House Appropriations Committee, was going to need to be reevaluated in light of Harvey’s impact,” the New Jersey Herald reported.
“Circumstances have changed significantly since the bill was drafted earlier this summer,” Jennifer Hing, committee spokesman told the Associated Press on Wednesday. “Given the current situation, the committee is reassessing the issue.”
A spokesman for Frelinghuysen said on Friday “Clearly, circumstances have changed since the bill was drafted months ago,” the Herald reported.
Frelinghuysen, who fought for a $53 billion recovery package in 2013 following Superstorm Sandy, said in a newsletter released on Thursday: “long-term, stable recovery requires an injection of resources at the earliest possible date to ensure the ability to rebuild and strengthen the region,” the Herald reported.
“One of the nation’s greatest natural disasters continues to unfold before our eyes and our committee is fully committed to meeting the short- and long-term needs of disaster victims in Texas and Louisiana,” Frelinghuysen told the Herald on Friday via email.
”Having led efforts to assist Super Storm Sandy survivors in the Northeast, I believe that every type of resource ought to be utilized to support rescue, relief and recovery efforts,” Frelinghuysen wrote. “The people of Texas and Louisiana should be reassured that our committee will work with the (White House) administration to make sure the money will be there.”
At the request of Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, Trump signed an emergency disaster declaration the day the storm made landfall, which made federal funds immediately available to the state.
“Hurricane Harvey is projected to be the second-costliest storm in U.S. history at roughly $108 billion,” the Herald reported, noting Hurricane Katrina caused $118 billion in damage when it hit New Orleans in 2005 and Superstorm Sandy caused $75 billion in damage when it struck the U.S. east coast in 2012.