Texas-Sized Hypocrisy in the Harvey Relief Package

As Hurricane Harvey departs the Texas-Louisiana coast, losing strength as it heads through Appalachia and toward the Northeast, Americans continue to show their profound generosity by assisting the many relief efforts underway to help storm victims. With an estimated 30,000 people seeking shelter, and as many as 450,000 believed to need some form of disaster assistance, it could be years before the affected cities and towns of Texas and southwest Louisiana see a full recovery.

The Trump Administration is preparing an initial disaster relief package of nearly $8 billion. It wants action taken by Congress on that request immediately. That’s only a down payment on what undoubtedly will be an even larger request once the full scope of damage is assessed.

Congress should address these needs quickly. Despite the vile and divisive political rhetoric used for years by Texas Republicans against Washington in general and federal spending in particular; despite the nearly $10 billion sitting in Texas’ own Economic Stabilization (aka “Rainy Day”) Fund for purposes exactly like these, but for which Governor Greg Abbott won’t call the Legislature into a special appropriations session; and despite the votes of 27 of 28 Texas Republicans against Hurricane Sandy disaster relief in 2013, now is not the time to deny crucially needed federal aid to the actual human beings suffering in the wake of this natural disaster.

It is, however, an appropriate time to dredge up some of those Republicans’ “greatest hits” from the congressional debate over Sandy relief, especially because some of the most priceless reasoning came from either those Texas legislators or others who are now members of the Trump Administration. The most widely quoted and recent form of self-absolution came from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who last week explained his vote against Sandy as follows: “The problem with that particular bill is it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.” The Washington Post’s Fact Checker column awarded Cruz Three Pinocchios for the falsehoods in that claim. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/29/ted-cruzs-claim-that-two-thirds-of-the-hurricane-sandy-bill-had-nothing-to-do-with-sandy/?utm_term=.478071e541fb&wpisrc=nl_fact&wpmm=1

But the Congressional Record from January 2013 provides a mound of additional fodder for students of situational ethics. Here are a few choice examples:

Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) — Congressional Record p. H119, Jan. 15, 2013 — “In the wake of a tragedy like Hurricane Sandy, all agree, no matter what, that disaster victims must receive basic necessities like food, water, power, medicine and law enforcement. This is undebatable. Yet as we continue to borrow more than 30 cents on the dollar, much of it from the Chinese, can and should the federal government continue to fund the restoration of private homes, businesses and automobiles? . . . This isn’t just nature at work. This is a move toward ‘nationalizing’ disaster, consequently lowering the threshold of what is considered truly disastrous. This has allowed states and localities to abdicate more and more of their responsibilities to a federal government that owns a printing press for money and has no balanced budget requirements. Also, spending restraint is usually the first thing to go in the heat of a crisis — especially when someone else is picking up the tab.”

Then-Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC)[now Office of Management and Budget Director] — Congressional Record p. H125, Jan. 15, 2013 — “I’m here for one reason and one reason only, Madam Chair, and that is to talk about how we can pay for it. That’s it. . . . [I]t is incumbent upon us to have the discussion about whether or not we have the money to do this and whether or not it’s important enough to us to pay for it. . . I think we should be willing as a body to come together and say, Look, there are things that we do not need this year, things that we can do without this year so that the people in New York and New Jersey and Connecticut and the other States who so badly need the money can have it, without us having to go hat-in-hand to other nations of this world and say, Would you please lend us money so that we can take care of our folks who need it so badly? . . . But the time has come and gone when we can walk in here one day and spend $9 billion or $17 billion or $60 billion and not think about who’s paying for it.”

Then-Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN) [now Director of National Intelligence] — Congressional Record p. S315, Jan. 28, 2013 — “This is not about ideology. This is about some very basic math that shows us that we have a decreasing capacity to address these types of emergencies and other necessary items like education, medical research, transportation to pave roads and rebuild bridges, and any number of discretionary items whose value we can debate. That is shrinking dramatically. So if we don’t apply at least some discipline to how we evaluate and examine our spending, we will continue to plunge into debt and to borrow money, which is ultimately unsustainable. . . So if someone brings forward an alternative to at least give us the opportunity to provide effective oversight and to make sure this money does go to emergency needs and doesn’t just go to fulfill a wish list for what some cities would like to do in the future to prevent against future storms — not that we shouldn’t be debating that, but it doesn’t qualify as the emergency need of getting money to the people who need it now. . . If someone does come to the floor — as I understand Senator LEE is going to do — and offers a potential offset, let’s at least look at that possibility.”

In bemoaning the state of our federal deficit, these Republicans seemed conveniently to ignore that in 2001 they inherited a surplus from President Bill Clinton. As a result of the Bush tax cuts, they promptly turned that surplus into a growing deficit. Then, with tax receipts slammed by the Bush-era market crash of 2008, the deficit grew from $642 billion in the last full fiscal year of the Bush Administration to $1.5 trillion in the first fiscal year of the Obama Administration. President Obama’s economic recovery policies cut the deficit over the ensuing eight years of his Administration by well more than half.

So while the Texas Republicans and other advocates for spending restraint quoted above may have been worried about trillion-dollar deficits back around the time of Hurricane Sandy, perhaps they should be thanking President Obama if they’re sleeping easier now about loosening the purse strings today for Texas and Louisiana. And perhaps they should be thinking twice before passing another tax cut that balloons the deficit. It’d be nice too if Governor Abbott and his Legislature loosened the strings on that $10 billion rainy day fund, instead of “nationalizing” this disaster as Texas Rep. Hensarling worried about in 2013.