The devastation has been surveyed, the havoc wreaked and now, in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, lawmakers and officials will have to determine just how much money the government will allocate to both the cleanup and rebuild efforts.
Texas Democratic U.S. Reps. Al Green, Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson and Marc Veasey each have estimated as much as $150 billion will be necessary for recovery, including roughly $10 billion right away for storm-ravaged Houston.
Each said they were happy with the response the disaster, which is responsible for untold injuries and deaths.
“I am proud of my state’s response in the face of one of our nation’s worst natural disasters,” Veasey said. “While recovery efforts will last for years, it is important that we provide those affected by Hurricane Harvey with immediate assistance.”
The nationwide coordination between FEMA, the National Guard, and local first responders has been impressive as search and rescue missions continue, Veasey said, noting that Congress has a responsibility to provide the necessary support needed to begin rebuilding efforts in Texas and Louisiana and a robust and swift aid package counts as a first step.
Congress may vote on a package as early as Thursday, Sept. 7.
While most Democrats are optimistic that funding will be easily approved, there remains skepticism about Republicans and their will to move quickly.
As one published report noted, the GOP rose to power on vows to rein in deficit spending, and fiscal hawks on and off Capitol Hill are already bristling at the idea of moving a Harvey relief bill without paying for it elsewhere in the budget.
Yet Congress has a long tradition of responding to natural disasters with emergency funds that pile on to the deficit, and the massive devastation caused by Harvey along the Gulf Coast — combined with the voices of powerful Texas Republicans urging immediate relief — puts enormous pressure on GOP leaders to drop their insistence on deficit neutrality for the sake of political expediency.
Also, it should be noted that House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin), who as chairman of the House Budget Committee in 2013 had opposed a pair of emergency funding bills for areas in the Northeast hit by Superstorm Sandy, has so far been silent on the offset question. Several other GOP leaders, including Reps. Steve Scalise of Louisiana and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington, had also voted against the Sandy package, as did almost every GOP member of the Texas delegation.
Rep. Michael Burgess, Texas Republican, said the extent of Harvey’s damage may not be known for months, requiring Congress to appropriate multiple tranches of aid money.
“There will be a secondary wave of federal dollars that are appropriated, and likely as not, there will be a third wave,” Burgess told CNN.
But the Dallas-area congressman said he had also been concerned about billions in Hurricane Katrina and Sandy relief aid going unspent.
“I want to be certain that the help gets where it’s needed, when it’s needed,” Burgess said. “But, yes, we do have a responsibility to be the stewards of the taxpayer dollar. And that’s a concurrent responsibility.”
Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) called the Sandy package as “a pork-barrel spending binge.”
“There are legitimate needs in Texas and Louisiana,” Toomey told a local business group, according to reports. “We should respond. That will be expensive. But it is not an occasion to just load this up like a Christmas tree.”
President Donald Trump toured the area over the weekend with stops in Texas and Louisiana while Houston continued to deal with unclean and unsafe water, mold, and a myriad of other problems caused by the storm.
The river’s water level remained at about 16 feet above flood stage and seven feet above record level late Saturday.
“This flooding poses an ongoing threat to Beaumont and the surrounding area,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters.
Beaumont’s Baptist Hospital faced evacuation over the weekend because of the loss of drinking water, a major hardship considering that patients included premature babies and others in intensive care.
As many as 12,000 students have been temporarily forced to attend new schools after the storm had earlier delayed the first day of school for the week beginning Aug. 28.
The storm’s aftermath also included fires that erupted over a two-day period at a chemical plant near Houston that had previously suffered flooding.
As of late Saturday, the death toll had been reported at 50 and officials said about 27 trillion gallons of rain had fell on Texas and Louisiana over six days.
More than 72,000 people had been rescued and about 10 percent of the structures in Harris County were flooded, according to county officials.
More than 440,000 people have registered for emergency assistance from FEMA, which already has approved nearly $80 million to help victims.
Adding to the increased anxiety, CBS News reported that Hurricane Irma had been fast in its development and, as of Saturday, had been following a course that could bring it near the eastern Caribbean Sea by week’s end this week and ultimately ram the southeastern part of the United States.
Irma, which forecasters said has little chance of slamming Texas and Louisiana, has maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, making it a Category 2 storm, but it later strengthened to a Category 3, with maximum sustained winds that approached 120 mph, weather officials said.
Still, there’s optimism to be found, particularly in the response to Harvey.
“In the DFW Metroplex, Dallas and Fort Worth government officials have stepped up to the plate by providing refuge for displaced families and by helping to enroll students so their school year isn’t interrupted,” Veasey said. “The scope of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction requires continued cooperation between local and federal government to make sure Texas families have the necessary resources to rebuild and I will continue to support efforts to ensure that this goal is met.”