Lawmakers vow Harvey aid package, but there’s no plan yet

Senior lawmakers are calling on Congress to provide emergency disaster relief for victims of Hurricane Harvey as images of flooded streets and homes highlighted the extent of the damage in Texas.

The death toll from the storm rose to eight, and federal, state and local officials said Houston and the surrounding community will likely need years to recover. Vice President Mike PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PenceOPINION | There is no Trump administration Pence responds to Trump remarks: ‘I stand with the president’ DeVos charges ahead on school choice MORE said in an interview with local TV station KHOU that as many as half a million people in Texas will be eligible for disaster assistance.

President Trump is expected to visit the state on Tuesday.

GOP and Democratic aides said Monday that they have no specific plan yet for a disaster aid package since the storm is still ravaging Texas. But if Congress does appropriate funds for Harvey victims, an upcoming short-term spending bill next month to avoid a government shutdown is emerging as a possible vehicle.

Congress is expected to pass a short-term spending bill in September before current government funds run out at the end of the month. 

Adding Hurricane Harvey relief could help ease passage of the government spending measure that is typically a difficult vote for many conservative lawmakers. 

Congress coincidentally also faces a deadline at the end of the month to renew the National Flood Insurance Program, which could be tied into the same package as Harvey aid or addressed separately. 

In the meantime, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has about $1.8 billion available for disaster relief and can move funds from other accounts, according to a GOP aide. Trump issued a disaster proclamation on Friday night to make federal assistance available for victims of the storm.

A spokeswoman for Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanGOP chairman to discuss Charlottesville as domestic terrorism at hearing Trump’s isolation grows GOP lawmaker: Trump ‘failing’ in Charlottesville response MORE (R-Wis.) said the Trump administration would need to ask Congress for any extra disaster relief.

“We will help those affected by this terrible disaster. The first step in that process is a formal request for resources from the administration,” said Ryan press secretary AshLee Strong.

Trump pledged swift government action in response to the storm. 

“I think that you’re going to see very rapid action from Congress, certainly from the president,” Trump said during a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called on Republicans to “be ready to join Democrats in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending.”

“American families deserve to know that their government will be there for them when disaster strikes, without question and without hesitation,” she said in a statement.

Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee whose district includes storm-struck Houston, told Bloomberg TV: “We will need to put together an emergency supplemental appropriations bill.”

Culberson was the only Texas Republican to vote for a $50.5 billion measure providing disaster relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy in 2013. Nearly two dozen of his GOP colleagues from Texas voted with all but 49 House Republicans against the assistance.

Both of the senators from Texas, Republicans Ted CruzTed CruzThe media couldn’t be more blatant in distorting Trump’s words on Charlottesville Curtis wins GOP primary for House seat vacated by Jason Chaffetz Kimmel: Let’s make Trump a king so he has no power MORE and John CornynJohn CornynImmigration battlefield widens for Trump, GOP Congressional investigations — not just special counsels — strengthen our democracy Wrath of right falls on Google MORE, also voted against the final version of the Hurricane Sandy relief measure.

Opponents have argued that they supported aid to victims of Sandy in New Jersey and New York, but that the legislation had been loaded up with other measures.

Asked by MSNBC’s Katy Tur on Monday to defend his vote, Cruz maintained that the 2013 measure was “filled with unrelated pork.”

“The accurate thing to say is that I and a number of others enthusiastically and emphatically supported hurricane relief,” Cruz said. “What I said then, and still believe now, is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster when people are hurting to pay for their own political wish list.”

Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) was among the northeastern Republicans who were apoplectic when most of their GOP colleagues expressed reluctance to vote for Sandy aid. More than four years later, King singled out Cruz and other Texas Republicans for criticism.

“Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesnt deserve another,” King wrote on Twitter. “As lifelong NYer w/ NY values I will vote for emergency Harvey $ for Ted Cruz’s constituents. Above all, true Americans must stand together.”

Cruz dismissed King’s barbs during a CNBC interview on Monday.

“There will be plenty of time for politics. I’m not going to worry about political sniping,” Cruz said. 

House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas), who also voted against the Sandy package four years ago, expressed confidence that any Harvey aid measure would secure support from conservative Republicans if it didn’t include extraneous spending.

“The package needs to represent the real need,” Sessions told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Monday. “If the package is in any way bloated, it will have problems. If it is tailored to fit the need that we can substantiate, my colleagues in the Freedom Caucus will be there.”

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