Florida Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Ted Yoho of Gainesville voted against a $15 billion hurricane relief package on Friday despite calls from South Florida lawmakers to support increased FEMA funding as Hurricane Irma threatens Florida.
The relief package was part of a deal between President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders to raise the nation's debt ceiling for three months and temporarily fund the government through December.
Gaetz bristled at the spending package, calling it “generational theft.”
“Only Congress can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion new dollars in spending authority,” Gaetz said. “I have a pretty strident view that I will only vote to raise the debt limit if that vote is accompanied with reductions in entitlement spending. If conservatives don’t start voting no against debt-limit increases all the FEMA in the world won’t save us from our must unfortunate destiny.”
Gaetz and Yoho did vote in favor of a standalone $7.5 billion hurricane relief bill on Wednesday, which passed the House with only three no votes. Gaetz represents a conservative-leaning district on the western part of Florida's panhandle, an area of the state less likely to be heavily damaged by Irma.
The House passed the spending bill with the $15 billion in hurricane relief by a 316-90 vote. All 90 no votes were Republicans.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin huddled with Republican lawmakers before the vote and urged them to “vote for the debt ceiling for me.”
“Ha. He's not one of my constituents,” Yoho said to the Associated Press.
Miami Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen also urged the House to vote in favor of the bill, circulating what’s known as a “Dear Colleague” letter on Thursday evening ahead of the vote.
“As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, I would ask that all my Congressional colleagues reflect on the fate of Florida’s 20.61 million residents when they are asked to again vote on this vital emergency disaster funding as it comes back from the Senate,” Ros-Lehtinen said.
Three Florida Republicans, Reps. Tom Rooney, Francis Rooney and Brian Mast, and every Florida Democrat left in Washington voted in favor of the bill while 11 Florida Republicans were not present as they left Washington to prepare for Irma.
Sen. Marco Rubio said Thursday after the U.S. Senate passed the hurricane relief bill by an 80-17 margin that he would have voted in favor even though he had “significant reservations.”
Rubio was in Miami preparing for Irma.
“I strongly disagree with the decision made by the administration to agree to pair funding for FEMA and emergency disaster relief to short-term extensions to the continuing resolution, the debt ceiling and the National Flood Insurance Program unaccompanied by significant reforms,” Rubio said in a statement. “Absent extenuating circumstances such as the outbreak of the Zika virus last year, I have consistently opposed passage of short term continuing resolutions, because they are an incredibly inefficient way of spending taxpayer dollars and fails to provide the certainty required for effective planning.”
But Rubio said the need to keep FEMA afloat would have led him to vote yes despite his objections.
Gaetz felt differently.
“The federal government has a significant role to play in disaster relief, and I support that role, but we didn’t have to authorize over 1 trillion in new spending to help hurricane victims,” Gaetz said. “That was Washington using a crisis to feed its addiction to spending.”