Rainwater from Hurricane Harvey surrounds oil refinery storage tanks in this aerial photograph taken above Texas City, Texas, U.S., on Wednesday, Aug. 30, 2017. Unprecedented flooding from the Category 4 storm that slammed into the state’s coast last week, sending gasoline prices surging as oil refineries shut, may also set a record for rainfall in the contiguous U.S., the weather service said Tuesday. Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg
Now that Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have both finally passed, leaving a level of devastation unprecedented in U.S. history, the political games around securing taxpayer money at the local, state and national levels to help pay for the rebuilding effort will begin. Given that Harvey wrought destruction from Corpus Christi all the way up the coast through the Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange Golden Triangle and into the Piney Woods communities of East Texas, we are talking about an area in Texas alone that is home to at least 8 million Texans, several times the number of Louisiana residents who were impacted by Katrina in 2005.
In the wake of Katrina, the Louisiana congressional delegation, led by then-Senators Mary Landrieu and David Vitter, swung for the fences, bringing forward an initial kitchen-sink proposal for a massive $250 billion appropriation that included funding for things like $35 million in marketing funds for the state’s seafood industry, $8 million for alligator farms and a $40 billion request for the Army Corps of Engineers, which normally spends about $400 million annually in the state. This breathtaking money grab came after the George W. Bush Administration had worked with congressional leaders to push through $62 billion in Katrina-related recovery funding.
In the end, congress rejected that proposal, but did end up appropriating more than $120 billion in Katrina-related recovery funding in the years following the storm.
Twelve years later, now comes Hurricane Harvey, and a trail of devastation that is many times the size of the impact of Katrina, closely followed by Irma, leaving its own trail of destruction up the full length of the Florida peninsula into Alabama and beyond. Partisan politics in the nation’s capital were already polarized in 2005, but the situation today makes the politics of a dozen years ago seem like patty-cake by comparison.
The states impacted by these two major hurricanes are all “red” states with predominately Republican delegations, seemingly an advantage in a GOP-dominated congress with a Republican in the White House. But these delegations and will need their Democratic members to work to secure votes from their own party, as many budget hawks in the GOP caucus will refuse to support any proposed legislation.
These delegations will also need to strongly oppose efforts to turn a supplemental bill into a pork-barrel vehicle, as the national news media will be looking for any excuse to demonize members who represent states that voted heavily for President Donald Trump. Things could get especially uncomfortable for Texas Senator Ted Cruz if he decides to become a sponsor for a supplemental, as he strongly opposed the supplemental bill for relief efforts for the Northeastern U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, due to his contention that it had become a pork-barrel spending vehicle.
Much of the discussion in Texas will be related to flood control-related projects. Already, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick and others are pointing to long-existing plans to create a new flood-control reservoir to help protect the City of Houston from future flooding events, and a project to greatly expand existing seawalls along Galveston Island and the Bolivar Peninsula.