Congress

Some Texas Republicans want lawmakers to slow down on disaster relief

An excavator is used to move a mountain of debris created in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Port Aransas, Texas. The storm damaged or destroyed 80 percent of local homes and businesses and arrived just before Labor Day, wiping out the lucrative summer season's final weeks.
An excavator is used to move a mountain of debris created in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, Port Aransas, Texas. The storm damaged or destroyed 80 percent of local homes and businesses and arrived just before Labor Day, wiping out the lucrative summer season's final weeks. AP

Some Texas Republicans are warning lawmakers to slow down on approving more disaster relief funds.

The House plans to vote on an additional $36.5 billion for recovery efforts across the country. That amount is expected to include some funds for Texas — where Hurricane Harvey recovery is still in the early stages —- as well as hurricane relief efforts in Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere. The bill also includes funds for wildfire relief out west.

The vast majority of the Texas delegation, including members of both parties and Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, signed a letter last week requesting an additional $18.7 billion just for Texas. Three Texas Republicans, Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Joe Barton and Kevin Brady, did not sign.

Barton and Hensarling both voted for an initial Harvey relief package passed by the House last month after the storm hit. But the final relief bill became a Senate version that was tied to an increase in the debt ceiling and government funding, and they voted no. So did Texas GOP Reps. Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry.

In 2013, nearly every Texas Republican, including Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted against a big relief package to help victims of Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged parts of the East Coast, because it was not offset by spending cuts. Cruz defended that vote after Harvey, saying “two-thirds” of the Sandy bill “had nothing to do with Sandy.”

Now some members of the Texas delegation are raising concerns about their own state’s big ask, and urging their colleagues to make sure the money is spent appropriately.

“When you try to spend a lot of money very quickly without review, you can spend money that doesn’t absolutely have to be spent, so that is a concern,” Barton told the Star-Telegram Wednesday.

Barton said he’s still weighing whether he will vote for this new round of funding. He cited a lack of spending offsets, and no firm details on how much of the money will go directly to Texas.

“I am concerned that we are spending money without even attempting to offset it,” Barton said.

Brady, who represents the Houston area, voted for both versions of the first relief package, and plans to support this latest round as well. But, he held off signing the delegation’s letter last week. The congressman wanted more time and details to understand what the letter was asking for.

“Our first priority has to be making sure what’s in the pipeline is filled, because it’s running short now,” Brady told the Star-Telegram Wednesday. “I’m working with leadership and the delegation on how we’re going to fund those priorities.”

Hensarling’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the letter or the latest bill.

Other conservatives on Capitol Hill have raised similar concerns about the legislation the House will take up Thursday. The chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, Rep. Mark Walker, R- N.C., sent a letter to colleagues Wednesday suggesting members be allowed to offer amendments requiring “transparency” for how the funds will be used. He also said efforts should be made to “offset the burden of higher spending.” None of that is likely to happen.

Cornyn said last week that Texas leaders would be diligent about documenting requests for relief funding, and only seek aid for projects that were ready to go.

“There’s some people who want us to wait, but we’re not going to wait,” Cornyn said. “We’re determined as a bipartisan Texas delegation to make sure our needs are met.”

Andrea Drusch: 202-383-6056, @AndreaDrusch

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