Even as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott made the rounds on Capitol Hill Tuesday outlining a request for an additional $61 billion in hurricane recovery funds, lawmakers were getting word there may be no aid package forthcoming next month, according to a senior Texas GOP lawmaker.
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn emerged from a meeting with Abbott and the Lone Star State’s congressional delegation Tuesday sounding the alarm about the possibility that Congress might not act on another hurricane supplemental bill in November as originally anticipated.
The White House still expects to submit a new aid request in mid-November, an OMB spokeswoman said late Tuesday.
But Cornyn nonetheless appeared to think delays in getting the funds approved are still possible. He went so far as to suggest the Trump administration may be playing a “shell game” with the future supplemental funding needs.
“We believed that we had a commitment to do it in November, but now due to the press of other business that’s looking less likely. And the idea of it is, I assume that they think they want to roll all of this into the Dec. 8 omnibus,” Cornyn said. “There’s a risk at some point you start putting so much stuff in the omnibus that we end up with a [continuing resolution], and we get nothing in terms of disaster relief.”
“This is not looking good,” the Texas Republican said, affirming that he was against the appropriations “Christmas tree” scenario.
Cornyn indicated there have been issues working with the Trump administration on getting emergency requests for funding up to Capitol Hill in a form that represents the full needs of his state.
“It’s been a little bit of a problem getting the agencies to cooperate without the [Office of Management and Budget],” Cornyn said. “We sent a letter ... asking the OMB to instruct the agencies to share with us concerns they had, holes that needed to be filled and the like.”
“We frankly feel like this is part of a shell game that’s going on with OMB, and that people keep saying, ‘we want to help, we want to help,’ and then it keeps getting kicked off to the next supplemental and the next omnibus, and the need is never fully addressed,” Cornyn said.
The Texas senator praised Abbott’s efforts.
“It wasn’t lost on people that the governor’s being here was, you know, above and beyond the call of duty ordinarily, but this is a high priority for the state,” Cornyn said. “I think he wanted to impress on everybody his commitment, and the work that they’ve done to demonstrate what the unmet needs are.”
Cornyn said members of the Texas delegation would continue working with Abbott and the state government, to “eliminate as many excuses as we think they can come up with to delay a funding bill,” apparently referring to the White House’s budget office.
Abbott, a Republican, presented a 300-page briefing document authored by the newly established Commission to Rebuild Texas outlining the $61 billion request in copious detail. The report is signed by Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp, head of the new commission, which Abbott established to oversee the hurricane recovery effort.
It lays out hundreds of projects that state officials have determined are needed beyond current Federal Emergency Management Agency expenditures or “anticipated allocations” for Community Development Block Grant funding for individual housing assistance, according to the report.
The majority of requested funds would be for projects overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers, with the next largest recipient the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Relief program.
“This level of additional federal assistance is vital to restoring the economy of the Texas Gulf Coast and is consistent with federal aid in past disasters such as Hurricane Katrina,” the report reads.
The $61 billion request breaks down into the following major categories, with totals rounded to the nearest decimal point:
- Army Corps of Engineers: $36.6 billion
- Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program: $15.3 billion
- Federal Emergency Management Agency Disaster Relief Fund: $6.3 billion
- Transportation infrastructure: $841.8 million
- Economic Development Administration: $765.3 million
- State educational agencies: $501.5 million
- Department of Agriculture: $231 million
- Health care: $337.1 million
- Small Business Administration Disaster Loans Program: $67.7 million
Abbott’s formal request was first reported Tuesday by the Austin American-Statesman.
President Donald Trump and OMB Director Mick Mulvaney pledged to Cornyn that additional funds directed to Texas would be included in the next aid package, to be submitted to Congress sometime in November.
Including the supplemental legislation Trump signed into law last week, Congress has now approved $51.8 billion in emergency funds for relief from the devastation wrought by recent hurricanes and California wildfires.
Floridians including GOP Sen. Marco Rubio are also angling for billions of dollars more for what they say are unmet needs in the Sunshine State. And the Puerto Rico recovery effort is just beginning, lawmakers from both parties say.
An ‘Enormous Book’
Abbott will review his Washington visit in a press call with reporters Wednesday. He met Tuesday evening with members of the Texas delegation to discuss “unmet needs” from Harvey that he wants to see reflected in the next emergency supplemental for hurricane rebuilding.
Texas GOP Reps. Jeb Hensarling, Kevin Brady and Pete Sessions all declined to immediately comment on the size of the request when asked by CQ after a presentation from the governor late Tuesday evening. Republican lawmakers including Sessions and Rep. Blake Farenthold stressed that Texas had significant needs after Hurricane Harvey.
“Look at the number of people affected in Texas. I mean, it’s a huge number of people that were in the path of this storm — not only did they suffer damage, but their municipalities, schools,” Farenthold said.
Regarding paying for the package, Farenthold said, “I don’t think you’re going to find the necessary offsets, but I do think we need to look at every opportunity we have to cut unnecessary spending.”
Sessions said he still needed to study the document in detail — which he called “an enormous book.”
“This was the largest natural disaster in the history of the United States of America. It deals with the fourth-largest geographic area in the country. And it is of enormous consequences,” Sessions said. The request “will be thoroughly reviewed, it will be vetted, and it will be put in context. I look forward to beginning that process,” he said.
Abbott appeared positive in a brief talk with reporters after the meeting.
“The Texas delegation is working very collaboratively and cohesively as an entire team,” Abbott said.