GOP wants to speed Hurricane Harvey relief to Gulf Coast. But Trump’s budget cuts would hurt recovery in the long run

  • Published on September 1st, 2017

Well, Hallefriggin’lujah. Our nation’s usually austerity-minded Republicans—except when it’s a pet project, subsidies for some favored commercial enterprise, or the Pentagon—are saying they plan to take action as early as next week in passing a $5.9 billion spending bill to cover the immediate costs of the devastation that Hurricane Harvey’s deluge delivered to the Gulf Coast the past few days.

By Meteor Blades Hurricane Harvey flooding texas rescue by Texas military Department

Most, probably all, Democrats will be on board with this because, unlike the 179 Republicans—23 of them from Texas—who gave the thumbs-down to aid after Hurricane Sandy five years ago, they actually care about people harmed by the giant storm, even people who don’t vote to elect them.

But while this immediate aid is unlikely to face more than a few no votes in Congress, additional aid in the months to come may be a harder sell.

Pr*sident Donald Trump has vowed to make the recovery from Hurricane Harvey “better-than-ever” compared with previous efforts, and his support for a fellow with actual experience at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, William Brock Long, may indeed make the federal assistance smoother than it has sometimes been in the past.

Background: Hell and high water – Houston is a sitting duck for the next big hurricane

But the circumstances of his hiring didn’t happen by accident. Long was selected under the new rules passed after the disastrous FEMA handling of the Katrina aftermath by Michael D. “Heckuva job” Brown in 2005. Now the agency’s top post is required to go to someone who has relevant emergency management skills. However well Long does, however, Trump’s hiring and budgetary plans may transform his better-than-ever promise, like so many of his others, into crapola.

Politico reports:

No plans have been finalized but Republican leaders and the White House are weighing a package of nearly $6 billion to get FEMA through the end of the month. That’s likely to include $5.5 billion in disaster relief funds, plus funding flexibility for FEMA to spend more money if needed, as well as $450 million in small business loans, according to sources familiar with the matter. […]

News of a pending package comes after Republicans from Texas and Louisiana pushed GOP leaders and the White House to act soon. Some in leadership had hoped to tie the emergency Hurricane Harvey funding to a combined debt ceiling-government funding bill at the end of September.

Among those who might have been expected to have demanded a tie into the debt-ceiling vote is North Carolina Congressman Mark Anderson, the chairman of the ultra-right-wing House Freedom Congress.

Mike DeBonis and Damian Paletta report:

A debt-ceiling increase could be attached to the bill, those people said, to win broader support for that divisive measure ahead of a Sept. 29 deadline. But Meadows, who leads a group of hard-liners that has frequently frustrated House Republican leaders, said attaching Hurricane Harvey aid to a debt-ceiling increase would be a “terrible idea” that would be “conflating two very different issues.”

“The Hurricane Harvey relief would pass on its own, and to use that as a vehicle to get people to vote for a debt ceiling is not appropriate,” he said in an interview. “That sends all the wrong message: ‘Let’s go ahead and increase the debt ceiling, and by the way, while we’re doing it let’s go ahead and spend another $15, $20 billion?’ That’s not to undercut the importance of Harvey relief. We’re going to fund Harvey relief without a doubt, but I think it just sends the wrong message when you start attaching it to the debt ceiling.”

The nearly $6 billion is merely a downpayment on what is likely to be aid to the Gulf Coast that could eventually total as much or more than the $120 billion that was approved over many months after Hurricane Katrina roared through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, killing at least 1,800 people and sending tens of thousands of residents of New Orleans and the surrounding area into temporary exile in other cities, including Houston. About 40,000 of those exiles never returned.

Hurricane Harvey aid that tops $100 billion would be about 10 percent of the annual discretionary spending in the non-defense part of the federal budget.

In the case of both Katrina and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, aid bills of more than $50 billion were passed in the immediate aftermath of the storms. Republicans are determined not to let that happen this time. They argue that providing aid money in smaller batches will enable it to be targeted more effectively and productively than a lump-sum they say is more prone to corruption.

Maybe so. But the more spending proposals there are the more possibilities that significant opposition to “yet another” aid bill will emerge.

Meanwhile, as Laurie Kellman at TPM writes:

Trump has proposed vast budget cuts and leaving some leadership positions unfilled at agencies involved in disaster management. His Republican allies on Capitol Hill proposed spending some of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster money to build a U.S.-Mexico border wall. […]

Trump isn’t backing off his budget proposal to cut billions of dollars from those agency budgets, a plan Bossert Thursday said repeatedly is a “responsible” effort to make government more efficient. At FEMA, Trump has proposed cutting the disaster relief budget by $667 million, targeting grants that help state and local governments prepare for national disasters. […[

It’s important to note that cutting FEMA’s budget would also cause significant harm to state and local first responders who receive preparedness grants” through the agency, said Samantha C. Phillips, director of National Center for Security & Preparedness and a professor at the State University of New York at Albany. She added in an email that Trump’s support for his FEMA administrator puts Long “in a good position to lobby for the personnel he needs, not only to aid in the recovery from Hurricane Harvey, but simultaneously be ready for future disasters.”

For now, the immediate needs appear likely to be met. But the proof that certain people have learned important lessons from past mistakes in handling the aftermath of natural disasters remains to be seen.

Background: After the flood: How Houston developed its way into disaster

We are certain in the years ahead to suffer far more of what we just saw happen to a major American city. No matter how many times “climate change” is scrubbed from government websites, official studies, and grant proposals, the question that can no longer be dodged is what we are going to do to prevent these disasters from becoming even worse.

The current administration shows zero intentions of answering that question with anything useful.

(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Image by Texas Military Department on Flickr.)

About the Author

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue. He lives in New York, where he combines his passion for the environment with his passion for film, and is working on making the world a better place.