Louisiana lawmakers expect to push for disaster aid
“In terms of financial assistance from the federal government, there’s no doubt that that will be necessary,’’ said Rep. Mike Johnson, whose district includes Shreveport, which is expected to be hard hit. “The scope of this disaster, they’re saying now, will be likely unprecedented.’’ Daily Advertiser
Washington, DC, August 31, 2017
_ Lawmakers from Louisiana and Texas, who return to Congress next week, are already gearing up to ask for federal disaster aid in the aftermath of Harvey.
“In terms of financial assistance from the federal government, there’s no doubt that that will be necessary,’’ said Rep. Mike Johnson, whose district includes Shreveport, which is expected to be hard hit. “The scope of this disaster, they’re saying now, will be likely unprecedented.’’
Federal officials and lawmakers have yet to calculate the cost of the damage from Harvey, which came ashore Friday night as a Category 4 hurricane, and is still pummeling Texas with rainfall. The tropical storm made landfall in Louisiana early Wednesday five miles west of Cameron.
Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, R-N.J., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said the panel "stands at the ready to provide any necessary additional funding for relief and recovery."
"We are awaiting requests from federal agencies who are on the ground and will not hesitate to take quick action once an official request is sent," he said in a statement Tuesday.
President Trump, who visited Texas Tuesday and may visit Louisiana Saturday, also urged Congress to act quickly on a disaster aid package.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency projects the amount available for disaster relief will be about $1.5 billion by Sept. 30, considerably less than what Texas and Louisiana are expected to need to recover from Harvey.
Rep. Mike McCaul, R-Tex., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Chairman, said Congress may have to address that potential shortage.
“We do have a disaster recovery relief fund that right now, the economic costs are in the billions. It’s foreseeable that those funds may be depleted,’’ McCaul, whose district includes parts of Houston, said on Fox News' Sunday.
“One of the first things we do when we get back into Congress after the August recess may be to be looking at an emergency supplemental to help pay for this assistance to the people of the great state of Texas,” he said.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, whose district includes Houston, called for a $150 billion aid package.
“We’ve got to pass a supplemental unlike the fight we had for Hurricane Sandy (funding),’’ Jackson Lee, who is on the Homeland Security Committee, said on CSPAN Monday.
Disaster aid for Sandy was eventually approved in 2013 after bitter arguments over the cost and whether it included funds for more than emergency relief. Superstorm Sandy struck the northeast Oct. 2012. It was overwhelmingly approved by Democrats.
“We had a political fight,’’ she said. “I will count on my colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, and goodwill to not do this to Texas because this is a storm, a hurricane, an ocean of water that no one has ever seen before. We need the money now.’’
Some political experts had warned the vote against the Sandy disaster aid package come back to haunt lawmakers, including Texas and Louisiana Republicans who didn't support it.
"There may be some people who have longer memories and look at that and say, payback time,'' Pearson Cross, a political scientist at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, said last fall.
Sen. Bill Cassidy was still a member of the House when lawmakers voted in January 2013 on the Sandy aid package. Cassidy, Rep. Steve Scalise and then Rep. John Fleming opposed an amendment offered by Frelinghuysen that provided nearly $34 billion for block grants. The Louisiana lawmakers said some of the Sandy aid measures included funding unrelated to the 2012 storm.
In several appearances this week, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has aggressively defended Sandy aid, blasted the more than 60 days it took to approve it, and called Texas critics hypocrites for voting against the package and now looking for help.
He said some lawmakers were "playing politics'' to boost their conservative credentials.
"The fact of the matter is there's not a liberal or conservative way to deal with people who are drowning and dying,'' he said on Fox News Wednesday. "We need to get aid to them. That's what the federal government is there for."
Christie called on Congress to act quickly and urged New Jersey congressmen not to hold a grudge.
"I don't think that Texas and Louisiana should be treated the same way,'' he said.
The push for more aid may also face challenges from conservative lawmakers who have raised concerns about disaster aid packages that include funds for unrelated projects.
Johnson said he expects other conservative lawmakers will consider funds for this historic disaster a “reasonable request.”
He said the federal government should have a limited role, “but among those limited roles is a disaster exactly like this.”
Pushing for disaster aid is not new to Louisiana lawmakers.
The lawmakers, including Gov. John Bel Edwards, teamed up to successfully push for more federal aid to help with recovery efforts from last year's devastating floods.
Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., will also join efforts to get disaster funds if Louisiana needs it, said Andrew David, a spokesman for the congressman.
“We’ll make sure that the folks in southwest Louisiana have the resources they need to rebuild and recover,’’ David said.
But Higgins and other Louisiana lawmakers said reauthorizing the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) will also be a pressing issue. They said the focus on Harvey could spur Congress to act.
“We’re facing a Sept. 30 deadline and hopefully this will bring awareness to what the National Flood Insurance Program does for citizens even in inland areas like Houston,’’ David said. “It’s not necessarily a coastal area, but they’re seeing this historic flooding is a real tragedy.’’
Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said one major concern will be how to pay for the NFIP.
“We’re going to have a plate full on how to deal with this," he said. “That’s longer term. We’re just trying to get through this week right now.’’