The U.S. House easily approved legislation on Friday to keep the Federal Emergency Management Agency from running out of Hurricane Harvey disaster relief money over the weekend. The same bill included a short-term debt ceiling hike and language to fund the federal government through December 8.
I was surprised to see all four of Iowa’s House members in the yes column (roll call). Both of our senators had voted against the Harvey aid package in the upper chamber. I expected Representative Steve King (IA-04) and possibly Representative Rod Blum (IA-01) to follow suit.
Although a “clean” Harvey aid bill gained nearly unanimous support in the House earlier this week, 90 Republicans cast no votes on the amended bill. The dissenters were largely from conservative factions, such as the Republican Study Committee and House Freedom Caucus. They oppose tying a debt ceiling hike and other government spending to disaster relief, and were unmoved by an ineffective pitch from Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin and White House budget director Mick Mulvaney (a founding member of the Freedom Caucus once upon a time).
King proudly opposed an aid package soon after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. Years later, he recalled that choice as his “best vote” in Congress. He also voted against one Hurricane Sandy relief package in 2013, because the spending wasn’t offset by any cut to discretionary government programs. At this writing, King had neither sent out a press release about his Harvey aid vote nor posted about it on his social media feeds. But speaking to C-SPAN’s Bill Scanlan a few hours before the bill came to the floor, he explained,
I would have rather President Trump had reached an agreement to it with the conservative Republicans in the House and in the Senate. And I have been speaking to them–I consider myself to be one of them–for some months and saying, we’re going to have to raise the debt ceiling. We actually control the spending in the House and the Senate, the Republican majority does, so raising the debt ceiling is a necessary product of not controlling our spending. […]
And so I think that we could have gotten there, with a debt ceiling increase, without going to the Democrat leadership [in the] House and Senate. But President Trump seemed to just bypass that and make that deal.
I look at that agreement in components. Is there any component that I would oppose, of the major components there? And the answer is no, so I intend to support that agreement. And I just think there might have been politically a way to do that that would be more unifying to House Republicans in particular.
Blum is a self-styled deficit hawk who belongs to the Freedom Caucus. In a written statement, he professed to “detest the status quo process we witnessed today: a backroom political deal that combined bills of totally different intent.” He believes Congress should approve disaster relief funding in standalone bills with spending offsets. However, he added, “I voted ‘yes’ because those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma should not suffer because of the repeated failures of career politicians in Washington.” Iowa’s first Congressional district includes the Cedar Rapids area and other towns that have experienced catastrophic floods.
Representative David Young (IA-03) is usually a reliable vote for House leaders. He didn’t comment on Friday’s vote but had touted the earlier House vote in a Facebook post enclosed below, along with Blum’s press release.
All House Democrats who were present on September 8 supported the Harvey aid bill, including Iowa’s Dave Loebsack (IA-02). To my knowledge, Loebsack has never voted against a disaster relief package during his six terms in Congress.
Statement from Representative Rod Blum, September 8:
“As the Representative of Iowa’s 1st District, which has seen devastating flooding over the last decade, I absolutely agree on the critical need for additional funding to assist in mitigating and recovering from the effects of natural disasters,” said Congressman Blum. “Though I voted in favor of disaster relief, this funding should have come from a standalone relief package with spending offsets targeting waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal government. I detest the status quo process we witnessed today: a backroom political deal that combined bills of totally different intent.”
Blum also added, “I voted ‘yes’ because those impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma should not suffer because of the repeated failures of career politicians in Washington. For our nation to be in the fiscal position to afford vital funding for FEMA, flood walls, and hurricane recovery, we must take the hard but necessary steps to control our 20 trillion dollar debt that will be passed on to our children and grandchildren.”
Facebook status update from Representative David Young, September 7:
The U.S. House Wednesday passed $7.4 billion in disaster-relief for the people dealing with the flooding and devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas and other parts of the Gulf Coast.
This is one of the things Americans do very well – we pull together and help our neighbors.
While our prayers continue to go out to those who are rebuilding from this storm, we also hold up the safety and well-being of those who are in Hurricane Irma’s path. America and this Congress stand ready to quickly respond and help those neighbors as well.