Only Congress can say whether this is a time for greatness or the beginning of the end.
Everyone knows the Bible story of Noah and his ark. Ancient Sumerians had a similar saga with the Epic of Gilgamesh.
In humanity’s great tales, floods have a way of summoning the greatest among us.
Here in Houston, the flood of 1935 delivered the leadership of Congressman Albert Thomas, who spent 30 years in Washington promoting everything from funding flood control and the Houston Ship Channel to building the Johnson Space Center.
Now we wait for a modern leader to rise out of Harvey’s waters. Who would have thought it would be U.S. Sen. John Cornyn?
Neither firebrand nor maverick, Cornyn has always been more of a steady hand and company man — a loyal member of the Republican Party. But, even while he serves as the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, Cornyn has bravely decided to buck his party and put a hold on a key Trump administration appointee, Russell Vought. It’s all part of a legislative gambit to grab Washington by the lapels and force the administration to deliver on promised hurricane recovery funds.
You would think Cornyn could find universal support. Instead he’s endured attacks from powerful right-wing interest groups.
Michael Quinn Sullivan of Empower Texans has lambasted Cornyn on Twitter for “taking a conservative hostage until he gets cash for Texas.”
Noah Wall, vice president of advocacy at tea party group FreedomWorks, has said that, “Sen. John Cornyn is putting his earmarks before the fiscally conservative Trump nominee.”
Those so-called earmarks represent Houston’s birthright. It was federal dollars that helped build our reservoirs and flood infrastructure and allowed Houston to grow into a 20th-century boomtown without fear of another 1935 flood. We will again need similar support to protect our city from the next Memorial Day flood, Tax Day flood or Hurricane Harvey.
Congress has approved billions in FEMA dollars and emergency relief and tax breaks in the wake of Harvey, but Houston needs more. A third reservoir can’t be built from home buyouts. Tax cuts won’t pay for coastal storm-surge protection. Bayou infrastructure projects aren’t funded by small business loans.
That’s why Gov. Greg Abbott has proposed a $61 billion package to prepare Texas for the next big flood — ”futureproof,” he calls it. The Trump administration
has promised to promote a new Harvey bill sometime soon. Cornyn shouldn’t drop his hold unless the proposal includes every last cent that Abbott has requested.
Ask Sullivan or Wall, however, and they’ll say that filling some obscure position in the Office of Management and Budget takes precedence over protecting the fourth largest city in the United States. Your mucked home, your ruined car, your child’s school, the entire city of Houston represent nothing more than an inconvenient expenditure. Perhaps Sullivan would have a different attitude if he had to rely on the East Houston Regional Medical Center, forced to close after Harvey, for his health care. Maybe Wall would understand the need for hurricane recovery if he joined in prayer alongside the congregants at Beth Yeshurun or United Orthodox Synagogue, who have seen their holiest chambers ruined by overflowing bayous.
No. Lobbyists worship at the altar of power, and Houston’s future must be sacrificed for the sake of their political agenda.
In mid-September, while Harvey’s floodwaters still sat in Addicks and Barker reservoirs, Sullivan interviewed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz in a sprawling, half-hour conversation that touched on everything from tax reform to wind turbine construction codes. More than 20 minutes passed before bringing up Harvey. Once the topic was broached, however, Cruz told Sullivan that everyone in Washington had agreed to fund a robust rebuilding effort.
“Whatever Texas needs to come through the storm,” Cruz said. “We’re going to get.”
Cornyn doesn’t seem too confident in that promise. Cruz has a responsibility to stand side-by-side with his colleague and demand that Congress deliver for Texas. For the past five years, our state’s junior senator has fought to end Obamacare, shut down the Export-Import bank and burn every bridge in the Senate in his quest for the presidency. Cruz has a year left in his term to prove that he’s willing to harness a similar passion for hurricane recovery.
Epochal floods may have summoned the greatest, but they also served as a harbinger of demise. Zeus closed the Bronze Age with a deluge. Waters halted the time of giants in Beowolf.
The 1900 Hurricane cut short Galveston’s reign as the Queen City of the Gulf.
Will Harvey serve as Houston’s moment for heroes, or the beginning of the end?
Only Congress can answer that question. Congress has approved billions in FEMA dollars and emergency relief and tax breaks in the wake of Harvey, but Houston needs more. A third reservoir can’t be built from home buyouts.