Lawmakers vow Harvey aid package, but there’s no plan yet

Lawmakers vow Harvey aid package, but there’s no plan yet
© Getty Images

Senior lawmakers are calling on Congress to provide emergency disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey as images of flooded streets and homes highlighted the extent of the damage in Texas.

The death toll from the storm rose to eight, and federal, state and local officials said Houston and the surrounding community will likely need years to recover. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceTrump hotel cancels Christian aid group's event to support the Kurds: report China is not going to be America's space partner anytime soon Turkey's Erdoğan warns of renewed fighting if Kurds don't withdraw MORE said in an interview with local TV station KHOU that as many as half a million people in Texas will be eligible for disaster assistance.

President Trump is expected to visit the state on Tuesday.

ADVERTISEMENT

GOP and Democratic aides said Monday that they have no specific plan yet for a disaster aid package since the storm is still ravaging Texas. But if Congress does appropriate funds for Harvey victims, an upcoming short-term spending bill next month to avoid a government shutdown is emerging as a possible vehicle.

Congress is expected to pass a short-term spending bill in September before current government funds run out at the end of the month. 

Adding Hurricane Harvey relief could help ease passage of the government spending measure that is typically a difficult vote for many conservative lawmakers. 

Congress coincidentally also faces a deadline at the end of the month to renew the National Flood Insurance Program, which could be tied into the same package as Harvey aid or addressed separately. 

In the meantime, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that the balance of its Disaster Relief Fund was $3.3 billion as of Monday. Costs of responding to Hurricane Harvey "are quickly drawing down the remaining balance," the agency said in a statement.
 
Trump issued a disaster proclamation on Friday night to make federal assistance available for victims of the storm.

A spokeswoman for Speaker Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanAmash: Trump incorrect in claiming Congress didn't subpoena Obama officials Democrats hit Scalia over LGBTQ rights Three-way clash set to dominate Democratic debate MORE (R-Wis.) said the Trump administration would need to ask Congress for any extra disaster relief.

“We will help those affected by this terrible disaster. The first step in that process is a formal request for resources from the administration,” said Ryan press secretary AshLee Strong.

Trump pledged swift government action in response to the storm. 

“I think that you're going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president,” Trump said during a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Republicans to “be ready to join Democrats in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending.”

“American families deserve to know that their government will be there for them when disaster strikes, without question and without hesitation,” she said in a statement.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee whose district includes storm-struck Houston, told Bloomberg TV: “We will need to put together an emergency supplemental appropriations bill.”

Culberson was the only Texas Republican to vote for a $50.5 billion measure providing disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. Nearly two dozen of his GOP colleagues from Texas voted with all but 49 House Republicans against the assistance.

Both of the senators from Texas, Republicans Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzPartisan squabbles endanger congressional response to Trump's course on Syria Trump urged to hire chief strategist for impeachment fight The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Trump's impeachment plea to Republicans MORE and John CornynJohn CornynThune calls Trump remarks on lynching 'inappropriate' Cash surge puts more Senate races in play Trump slams 'very dumb' O'Rourke for proposals on guns, tax exempt status for churches MORE, also voted against the final version of the Hurricane Sandy relief measure.

Opponents have argued that they supported aid to victims of Sandy in New Jersey and New York, but that the legislation had been loaded up with other measures.

Asked by MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Monday to defend his vote, Cruz maintained that the 2013 measure was “filled with unrelated pork.”

“The accurate thing to say is that I and a number of others enthusiastically and emphatically supported hurricane relief,” Cruz said. “What I said then, and still believe now, is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster when people are hurting to pay for their own political wish list.”

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) was among the northeastern Republicans who were apoplectic when most of their GOP colleagues expressed reluctance to vote for Sandy aid. More than four years later, King singled out Cruz and other Texas Republicans for criticism.

“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,” King wrote on Twitter. “As lifelong NYer w/ NY values I will vote for emergency Harvey $ for Ted Cruz’s constituents. Above all, true Americans must stand together.”

Cruz dismissed King’s barbs during a CNBC interview on Monday.

“There will be plenty of time for politics. I’m not going to worry about political sniping,” Cruz said. 

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who also voted against the Sandy package four years ago, expressed confidence that any Harvey aid measure would secure support from conservative Republicans if it didn’t include extraneous spending.

“The package needs to represent the real need,” Sessions told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “If the package is in any way bloated, it will have problems. If it is tailored to fit the need that we can substantiate, my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus will be there.”