Harvey relief funding and the deafening silence of Texas delegation

It's time for the Texans to start talking.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017.  CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas in Corpus Christi, Texas, Tuesday, Aug. 29, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Houston, Texas last weekend, submerging entire communities and killing in the double digits. In the days since the storm began its reign of terror, however, there has been radio silence from nearly every Republican member of the Texas Congressional delegation about whether they will support an emergency aid package to help Harvey victims.

Harvey has been downgraded to a tropical storm, but record-breaking rainfall and unprecedented flooding continues to ravage communities — and will for weeks to come. Initial conservative estimates suggest the storm could inflict upwards of $35 billion in damages and it’s likely Congress will need to take up legislation to secure the necessary funds for the long recovery effort ahead.

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In 2013, 25 members of the Texas Congressional delegation voted against the final relief package that funded recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction, 22 of whom are still in office. As of Monday afternoon, four of those 22 had said they would support a bill to provide relief funds to the area impacted by Harvey. ThinkProgress has reached out to the other 18 multiple times since Monday morning. Not one has responded to the repeated requests for comment over the course of three days.

Championing funding for their constituents should be one of the easiest moves for any congressional representative, but in Harvey’s wake, the majority of the Texas delegation seems to have worked itself into an impossible political space.

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The central complication seems to be their votes against the $50 billion Sandy relief package. At the time, the 12 Congressional Democrats from Texas and Republican Rep. John Culberson voted in favor of the measure. Of the 22 who voted against it and are still in office today, just Sens. Ted Cruz and John Cornyn and Reps. Michael McCaul and Pete Sessions said they would support funding for Harvey relief over the weekend, and Rep. Ted Poe joined them Tuesday evening.

It would, of course, be political suicide for any member of the Texas delegation not to support funding for Harvey aid, and with Cruz and Cornyn advocating for relief funding, it’s unlikely any member will say or vote otherwise. But those who have spoken out have been pushed to defend their votes against the relief package in the days since Harvey hit.

The general talking point has been that the Sandy bill contained too much “pork” and funded efforts not directly related to emergency aid. Cruz in particular has doubled down on his no vote, despite the widespread debunking of his reasoning for voting against the bill.

“Texas Republicans in Congress supported giving aid to the people of Sandy, to the victims of Sandy,” Cruz said Wednesday morning. “Most of the Texas Congressional delegation voted against the final bill, because the final bill got loaded up. It was a $50 billion bill, 70 percent of which was not emergency aid. Only 30 percent of that bill was emergency aid… The Texas Congressional delegation voted against putting unnecessary spending in what should have been an emergency relief bill.”

Rep. Sessions told the Huffington Post he would support relief funding, but said on Morning Joe Monday that “the package needs to represent the real need.” Rep. Poe echoed their talking points Tuesday evening on PBS, saying the Sandy relief bill contained too much money for things that had nothing to do with the storm, and that the funding bill for Harvey will ask for funding only for Harvey relief.

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And while the line is a tricky one to walk, Houston is quite literally under water. It’s time for Texas’ representatives to talk.

Correction: A previous version of this piece incorrectly stated the cost of Hurricane Katrina.