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Congressman Mike Johnson

Representing the 4th District of Louisiana

Stephanie Grace: Louisiana delegation gets it right on Harvey aid

September 12, 2017
In The News

U.S. Sen. John Kennedy was against it before he was for it, in a sense, but in the end, he joined the rest of the Louisiana delegation last week in voting for the first big down-payment on aid to recover from Hurricane Harvey.

Good.

Kennedy caused some confusion when he said "no" on an earlier procedural vote, but on final passage of the bill, he joined with his colleagues in doing the right thing, not to mention the pragmatic one.

 

Other Republicans surely shared similar reservations, given that the package included a three-month extension on raising the debt ceiling and other pressing matters. That was the Democrats' preference, and President Donald Trump shocked his fellow Republicans when he gave in to the minority party's offer rather than siding with his own party's leaders in Congress, who wanted a much longer time frame.

That part's between Trump and the Republicans, and it has to do with relative bargaining advantage on other matters going forward.

The part about Harvey aid is about the Texans who are suffering in the flood's wake and has to do with the much more crucial question of whether, in this era of extreme weather, the federal government is ready to say that natural disasters aren't just a regional problem.

For states that often find themselves in harm's way, this is an important stand to take.

When Kennedy joined fellow U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy and U.S. Reps. Garret Graves, Ralph Abraham, Mike Johnson and Clay Higgins in casting "yes" votes, Louisiana offered a united front. (Steve Scalise is still recovering from his bullet wound and is not back at work yet, and Cedric Richmond, the state's lone Democrat, voted for the House's first version but missed final passage).

That's a change from what happened after Sandy struck the northeast in 2012, when the debate over aid devolved into an ideological battle over how broadly to craft such packages.

Among those who voted against part of the allotment was Republican U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, of Texas, and after Harvey hit, some politicians from the Sandy zone made it clear that the affront was not forgotten. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie launched a colorful war of words when he went on CNN and declared Cruz a hypocrite for "playing politics in 2012, trying to make himself look like the biggest conservative in the world,” and then posing for photos with storm victims following Harvey. Cruz told the New York Times that he's “quite confident that nobody in Texas gives a flip what Chris Christie has to say."

"And it seems not many people in New Jersey do either,” Cruz added, apparently referring to Christie’s dreadful poll numbers at home.

There was a split in the Louisiana delegation back then too, with half the Republicans voting for the larger Sandy package and half — including Cassidy, who was then a congressman, and Scalise — against. One of the members on the "yes" side, Charles Boustany, later offered the most plausible explanation. Those who voted for the bill, he pointed out, had been in Congress when Katrina and Rita struck in 2005, when Louisiana had to fight the perception that the state's recovery was less than a national priority. Those who voted "no" hadn't had the same sobering experience.

Conservatives like Cruz and the three Louisianans said the Sandy bill was full of unrelated pork, a charge that was vastly overblown, according to independent fact-checkers. Still, there were surely things that didn't need to be in there for recover but did in order to attract enough votes for passage.

That's how legislating works. In addition to the debt ceiling and other national issues, Louisiana's politicians could have said no to the Harvey bill based on the fact that it didn't address local needs such as the ongoing recovery following last year's catastrophic flooding in Baton Rouge.

They were right to support it anyway, to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good or to let partisan maneuvering get in the way of common decency.

And they were right to take the opportunity to store away a little good will among their colleagues for the next time Louisiana gets hammered. Because we all know it will.