6 Tex­ans op­pose re­lief bill

Mea­sure passes eas­ily; Ab­bott had crit­i­cized level of help for Texas

The Dallas Morning News - - Front Page - By KATIE LES­LIE and TOM BEN­NING Wash­ing­ton Bu­reau

WASH­ING­TON — The U.S. House eas­ily passed a $36.5 bil­lion emer­gency dis­as­ter re­lief bill on Thurs­day, but not be­fore a flare-up between Gov. Greg Ab­bott and mem­bers of the Texas del­e­ga­tion that prompted Speaker Paul Ryan to in­ter­vene.

Six Texas Repub­li­cans voted against the mea­sure, ar­gu­ing it will add to the debt and fails to in­clude needed changes to a be­lea­guered fed­eral flood in­sur­ance pro­gram.

On Wed­nes­day, Ab­bott popped off at Texas law­mak- ers, ac­cus­ing them of lack­ing a “stiff spine” in ne­go­ti­a­tions over the lat­est round of re­lief fund­ing, which omit­ted his re­cent $18.7 bil­lion re­quest for Hur­ri­cane Har­vey-spe­cific aid.

At the Tex­ans’ re­quest, Ryan, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Kevin Mccarthy, Ma­jor­ity Whip Steve Scalise and Chief Deputy Whip Pa­trick Mchenry phoned the gover­nor late Wed­nes­day to ease ten­sions.

The lead­ers ex­plained that

the emer­gency mea­sure is in­tended to re­plen­ish the Fed­eral Emer­gency Man­age­ment Agency’s near-de­pleted cof­fers and help the deeply in-debt Na­tional Flood In­sur­ance Pro­gram pay claims to prop­erty own­ers, which in turn helps Texas.

And Ryan as­sured the gover­nor that Con­gress will take up the state’s re­cent re­quest for nearly $19 bil­lion in Har­vey re­lief as soon as Novem­ber, sev­eral peo­ple said. Texas wants the money to help re­build homes and busi­nesses lost in the hur­ri­cane, ex­pand bay­ous and de­velop crit­i­cal flood mit­i­ga­tion projects.

Mccarthy, who vis­ited with Ab­bott af­ter Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, again called the gover­nor Thurs­day dur­ing a Texas GOP lun­cheon. House lead­ers were un­will­ing to risk los­ing the Texas del­e­ga­tion’s votes for the bill, which un­der spe­cial fast­track rules re­quired two-thirds sup­port.

The House lead­ers’ pledge to take up the Lone Star re­quest ap­pears to have soothed the state’s top of­fi­cial, if a state­ment from Ab­bott’s spokesman is any in­di­ca­tion.

“The gover­nor will hold House lead­er­ship to that prom­ise on be­half of Tex­ans whose lives were dev­as­tated by Hur­ri­cane Har­vey,” said Deputy Chief of Staff Matt Hirsch. “In the mean­time, the gover­nor and the Texas del­e­ga­tion will con­tinue work­ing to­gether as a team to help Tex­ans re­cover and re­build.”

Rare re­buke

The House lead­ers’ in­ter­ven­tion came af­ter an un­usual re­buke from a Re­pub­li­can gover­nor, lev­eled at a largely Gop-led del­e­ga­tion.

In an in­ter­view with the

Hous­ton Chron­i­cle on Wed­nes­day, Ab­bott said “it ap­pears the Texas del­e­ga­tion will let them­selves be rolled by the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives” and said he was “dis­ap­pointed” many had agreed to vote for the pack­age.

The ad­mon­ish­ment sent rip­ple ef­fects among the GOP mem­bers, in par­tic­u­lar, as many were set to sup­port the dis­as­ter re­lief bill.

“The mem­bers were con­fused. I was con­fused last night, be­cause I in­tended to vote for it, but not if my gover­nor is against it,” Cop­pell Rep. Kenny Marchant said ahead of the vote.

In the end, Marchant and five other Texas Repub­li­cans — Ar­ling­ton Rep. Joe Bar­ton, Tyler Rep. Louie Gohmert, Dal­las Rep. Jeb Hen­sar­ling, Heath Rep. John Rat­cliffe and Austin Rep. Roger Wil­liams — voted against the mea­sure. Texas Democrats uni­formly sup­ported it.

Hen­sar­ling, whose Fi­nan­cial Ser­vices Com­mit­tee has pro­posed a se­ries of changes to the fed­eral flood pro­gram, said he op­posed the bill be­cause it didn’t take up any of those pro­vi­sions.

The pro­gram reached its $30.4 bil­lion bor­row­ing author­ity af­ter Hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma, leav­ing it un­able to pay many flood claims. The House re­lief bill would can­cel $16 bil­lion of that debt.

While the House mea­sure ig­nored multi­bil­lion-dol­lar re­quests from Texas and Flor­ida, it would di­rect $18.7 bil­lion to FEMA’S dis­as­ter re­lief fund and in­cludes a $4.9 bil­lion loan to help cash-strapped Puerto Rico af­ter a dev­as­tat­ing a se­ries of hur­ri­canes. The House bill would also spend about $577 mil­lion to help states bat­tling wild­fires.

Ab­bott, who is up for re-elec­tion next year, said Wed­nes­day that the money is far from what Texas needs to re­cover from Har­vey. “The least that Tex­ans de­serve is for their con­gres­sional del­e­ga­tion to stand with them on this fund­ing,” he told the Chron­i­cle.

Dis­plea­sure voiced

Many Texas Repub­li­cans in­di­cated Ab­bott may have been mis­in­formed about the na­ture of the bill.

The gover­nor “some­how got the im­pres­sion that this was go­ing to be a Puerto Rico bill,” said Rep. Pete Ol­son, RSu­gar Land, adding that Texas will ben­e­fit the most by keep­ing FEMA afloat.

Texas stands to re­ceive $15 bil­lion from the mea­sure, about $11 bil­lion in an­tic­i­pated flood claims and $4 bil­lion in FEMA dis­as­ter re­lief dol­lars, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures re­leased by Reps. John Cul­ber­son, John Carter and Kay Granger, who sit on the House Ap­pro­pri­a­tions Com­mit­tee.

The trio pledged to work with Ab­bott on long-term needs, which they said could ex­ceed $100 bil­lion.

But his han­dling of this bill rubbed some the wrong way.

Bryan Rep. Bill Flores was peeved that Ab­bott’s of­fice hadn’t reached out be­fore slam­ming fel­low Repub­li­cans.

“It’s in­ap­pro­pri­ate to say that some­body has no spine when they haven’t talked to you to see what you’ve ac­tu­ally done on their be­half, or how you in­tend to vote, or what you are do­ing be­hind the scenes to try to get things done cor­rectly,” said Flores, a Re­pub­li­can. “To say that we got rolled was an un­for­tu­nate com­ment.”

Rep. Pete Ses­sions, R-dal­las, was sim­i­larly dis­pleased. He said fed­eral law­mak­ers need a more de­tailed plan from the state about how it would spend the aid, es­pe­cially when it comes to sell­ing the pro­posal to other con­gres­sional mem­bers. He also en­cour­aged Ab­bott to meet with Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump about the state’s spe­cific needs.

“Shar­ing dol­lars with col­leagues is of lit­tle sig­nif­i­cance and vir­tu­ally un­able to be suc­cess­ful,” Ses­sions said. “The well un­der­stood way of do­ing busi­ness in Wash­ing­ton is to come and sub­stan­ti­ate your re­quest with data and in­for­ma­tion.”

Asked about Ab­bott’s com­ments, San An­to­nio Rep. La­mar Smith, a Re­pub­li­can, said any mis­un­der­stand­ing is now “moot.”

An­other GOP mem­ber, Claren­don Rep. Mac Thorn­berry, raised his eye­brows and shrugged.

‘Le­git­i­mate is­sues’

Other Tex­ans said they were sur­prised by Ab­bott’s re­marks, but not of­fended.

Wil­liams said that he doesn’t take the com­ments per­son­ally and that Ab­bott raised “le­git­i­mate is­sues.” Like Hen­sar­ling, he voted against the mea­sure be­cause it didn’t in­clude leg­is­la­tion to over­haul the flood pro­gram.

Ab­bott is “like a con­stituent. He’s look­ing at his rep­re­sen­ta­tives to rep­re­sent him,” Wil­liams said ahead of the vote. “I don’t have a prob­lem with what he said, say­ing get a spine or what­ever it was. I’ve got all that.”

Bar­ton, co-chair­man of the re­cently formed Texas Bi­par­ti­san Har­vey Task Force, chuck­led when told of Ab­bott’s com­ments. “We’re not real happy with there not be­ing more money in this sup­ple­men­tal for Texas,” he said. “That’s a fair state­ment.”

He voted against the spend­ing bill be­cause it “pro­vided lim­ited sup­port for Texas,” a spokesman said. Bar­ton also voted against a $15.3 bil­lion pack­age Con­gress passed last month be­cause it was bun­dled with a mea­sure to raise the debt ceil­ing.

Rep. Mike Con­away, RMid­land, said he voted for the bill be­cause he doesn’t want to be a part of “stymieing” Tex­ans from get­ting needed aid. Once the state sub­mits ad­di­tional doc­u­ments about its fund­ing re­quests, “we’ll move heaven and earth to make sure that hap­pens on be­half of Texas,” he said.

“The gover­nor un­der­stands we’re work­ing re­ally hard to make this hap­pen, and we’re not the spine­less in­di­vid­u­als he thought we were yes­ter­day,” Con­away said.

GREG AB­BOTT didn’t get the Har­vey aid he sought.

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