With Hurricane Harvey set to be the most damaging storm to hit the U.S. in a dozen years, Congress may be called upon to provide billions in extra storm relief this fall to help with the recovery.
That could put Texas Republican Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz — and Vice President Mike Pence — in a political bind, forcing them to choose between quick aid and their own past demands for spending cuts to offset emergency disaster funds.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund had just $3.8 billion as of July 31, with most of that set to be spent by the end of September. The House has proposed adding $6.8 billion in the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
Those funds are likely insufficient. A report Friday from CoreLogic estimated that Hurricane Harvey would cause $39.6 billion of damage alone to homes in its immediate path. That figure is closer to the aid package that Congress approved in early 2013 for the East Coast to recover from Superstorm Sandy, which topped $50 billion.
Cruz and Cornyn voted against the final Sandy aid package. During that debate, they voted for an amendment that would have cut domestic spending to pay for the emergency funding. Cruz at the time said that not all the funds were being allocated properly. Cornyn “voted for a Sandy aid package without the unrelated spending, which included things like repairing fisheries in the Pacific,” said Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie.
Both senators wrote to Texas Governor Greg Abbott Friday urging him to expedite emergency funding for the state this time around.
The fiscal bind also extends to the White House. In 2005, Pence, who was then a congressman from Indiana, led an effort called Operation Offset aimed at requiring deep spending cuts to pay for Hurricane Katrina relief.