Considering the federal aid package will be easily in the billions, the fight in Congress over how they’re going to pay for it could get ugly!
As Hurricane Harvey’s devastation continues to ravage coastal towns in Texas, the initial response by local and federal government officials looks to have gone relatively well. Many officials have commented that the first phase of the hurricane relief effort is in “life-saving mode” (aka trying to get hurricane victims into shelters and out of harm’s way). Yet in the coming months, as the storm passes and people go back to their homes – if many of them are even inhabitable at this point – those in Texas who are rebuilding their lives will need monetary relief from federal agencies.
This is where things might get tricky.
Even though disaster relief for Hurricane Harvey will be crucial in Texas’ recovery, it’s estimated that the cost of getting even basic infrastructure systems repaired (ie highways, electrical grids, ect) will be in the billions. Considering a GOP held Congress has traditionally been hesitant in funding big government projects, the question arises in how the Congressional GOP lawmakers will answer to a huge natural disaster like Harvey? Here are two potential battles that could arise from passing a proper hurricane relief funding legislation.
Possible Conflict #1: The Demands of Hurricane Harvey Relief Wanting to Offset Cuts Elsewhere in the Budget
— Brian Fallon (@brianefallon) August 28, 2017
Back in 2013, after Hurricane Sandy had decimated the east-coast the year before, there was a major congressional battle over its relief funding. Politically speaking, disaster relief funding should have been one of the easiest moves for any politician to make; however Congressional GOP had put up a major fight against the Sandy’s relief funding, due to the extra billions it would be adding to the federal budget. For Congressional Republicans at the time, they wanted the hurricane relief funds to offset other parts of the federal budget so it didn’t add to the national debt. As expected, the budget battle ended up holding up much of Sandy’s federal relief aid.
Considering Republicans control both Congress and the Presidency, along with many Republicans in the House that pride themselves in championing deep cuts in government spending, many worry that the same battle that happened with Sandy’s relief aid could come up again with Harvey’s. Though considering Texas is a conservative stronghold and any stalling of Harvey relief aid could spell doom for conservative lawmakers, there’s a chance that Congress will be able to avoid a budget battle over aid this time around. Even someone like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz – who has been critical of big government aid in the past – has changed his tune this time around.
Yet the amount of money that will be needed to pass a big aid package for Harvey relief aid could still end up being problematic. Usually in big aid packages, amendments and other riders tend to be tacked on creating a monstrosity of a bill that could scare off some conservative fiscal hawks. The worst case scenario here is that if lawmakers start to tack on amendments that would help their own congressional districts rather than focusing on Texas aid. The more bloated the Harvey relief bill gets with additional amendments, the more likely there will be a congressional fight over the aid packages. The hope here is that Congress passes a clean Texas aid package.
Possible Conflict #2: How the Potential Government Shutdown Could Affect Hurricane Harvey Relief
As we said earlier, right now the federal government is in “life-saving mode” in their efforts to help those in Texas, but soon, massive amounts of federal aid will be needed to continue the relief effort. However, before any of that can happen, Congress needs to first pass a federal budget.
For weeks now, there has been a fierce battle within Congressional Republicans over how to proceed with funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. Many in the GOP, along with President Trump, have voiced their willingness for a government shutdown if President Trump’s US/Mexico wall is not funded in the budget.
This, of course, would be disastrous for Harvey’s relief efforts. Not only would relief agencies lose federal funding from a government shutdown – Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) only has enough funds till the end of September – but federal programs, like those that would cover insurance for flood victims, would also be crippled. So far there have been encouraging reports that government funding stopgap, a debt ceiling raise, and Harvey aid would all be part of a massive legislative package. While not the most ideal budgetary deal, it at least looks as if both Republicans and Democrats are willing to get something done, in the name of relief aid.
(Photo Credits: Pixabay.com, Google Images)