With Irma on its way, 7 from NC vote against debt deal containing Harvey relief

George Cochrum and Caroline Wheeler walk down a flooded section of Interstate 610 in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas.
George Cochrum and Caroline Wheeler walk down a flooded section of Interstate 610 in floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey on Sunday, Aug. 27, 2017, in Houston, Texas. AP

Seven North Carolina representatives – a majority of the state’s Republicans in Congress – voted Friday morning against a deal that will provide Hurricane Harvey disaster relief, raise the government’s borrowing limit and fund the government for three months.

President Donald Trump cut the deal with Democratic congressional leaders earlier in the week, stunning Republicans who did not want to tie disaster relief to funding bills and argued strongly against such a short-term arrangement. But the bill overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Thursday and, despite some Republican unrest, passed the House 316-90 on Friday morning.

“There’s never a perfect bill and this certainly is not. It’s not the way we would have done it. Nonetheless, we have very important emergency funding relief from these hurricanes,” said Rep. Robert Pittenger, one of two North Carolina Republican congressmen to vote for it. “It’s important for North Carolina.”

The bill moved rapidly as Trump administration officials warned that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was running low on cash as claims from Harvey-devastated Texas and Louisiana poured in. Florida and parts of the Atlantic coast are bracing for Irma, which could wreak havoc on Miami and elevate the need for more disaster relief soon.

The passage of the bill clears the way for more than $110 million in disaster funding that was slated for North Carolina after last year’s Hurricane Matthew to flow into the state. That money had been held up as FEMA assessed its Harvey needs, Pittenger said.

Pittenger’s district in south-central North Carolina saw major effects from Matthew. So did the districts represented by Rep. Walter Jones of Farmville, who did not vote, and David Rouzer of Benson, who voted no.

The problem for many House Republican members was not the disaster relief, but the entangling of disparate issues, particularly raising the nation’s borrowing limit without spending cuts. The House approved its own $8 billion aid package for Harvey victims 419-3 earlier in the week. The entire North Carolina delegation voted yes on that version.

“All of the North Carolina people voted for hurricane relief two days ago. Didn’t we? I did,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, a Republican who represents the far western part of the state and is chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus. He voted no on Friday. “There were two conflated issues.”

Said Rep. Ted Budd of Davie County, another Republican who voted no: “The people who have had their way of life washed away from them do not have time for Congress to be attaching irrelevant items to what was a clean disaster relief bill. Funding our government and ensuring our country doesn’t default on our debt are important tasks that deserve individual debates.”

Congress will have to deal with the debt ceiling and funding the government again in December, a timeline Meadows said could lead to another bad deal for fiscal conservatives.

Rep. Mark Walker, chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, sent a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan with a list of 19 possible conservative add-ons to make the legislation more palatable for members of his caucus. Walker, from Greensboro, wanted to see some included in the bill. None were. Walker voted no.

Four Texas Republicans and two Florida Republicans also voted against the measure.

“It is incomprehensible to me that the representative of the people from a state that has been devastated by a 500-year flood would vote against disaster relief. That is beyond my ability to comprehend,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat from Wilson.

Despite the votes of most of his Republican colleagues, Butterfield said he did not anticipate North Carolina having a problem securing disaster relief funding in the future. The state could get hit by Irma after it makes landfall in Florida.

“I believe there are enough sensible people in Congress on both sides of the aisle that would not allow a state to go underwater without disaster relief, notwithstanding the position of the local congressman,” Butterfield said. “Those members of Congress that vote against disaster relief for their districts should be held accountable.”

House Democrats’ campaign committee pounced on opponents of the deal.

“Votes against relief for American families still reeling from Hurricane Harvey would be reckless and cruel on their own, but the fact that they were also a vote for a government shutdown and defaulting on America’s debt gives new meaning to the word irresponsible,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesperson Cole Leiter said. “If you want to understand why Americans are disgusted by Republicans in Congress, look no further than their votes.”

In addition to Rouzer, Budd, Meadows and Walker, Reps. George Holding (Raleigh), Virginia Foxx (Boone) and Richard Hudson (Concord) voted no.

Butterfield and fellow Democrats David Price of Chapel Hill and Alma Adams of Charlotte voted for the bill. So did Pittenger and Republican Patrick McHenry of Denver, the acting majority whip.

Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans, also voted in favor of the package.

Brian Murphy: 202.383.6089; @MurphinDC