- Maria Recio American-Statesman special correspondent
Four members of Congress from Texas voted against emergency funding for Hurricane Harvey on Friday.
What seemed like political suicide is a matter of principle, three of the four Republicans said.
Reps. Joe Barton of Ennis, Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, Sam Johnson of Plano and Mac Thornberry of Amarillo voted “no” primarily because of a provision that increased the debt limit for three months without any plan to reduce the deficit, they said. The fiscally conservative members were opposed to the deal cut by President Donald Trump and Democratic leaders.
The bill, which featured $15.3 billion for Harvey assistance for the hard-hit Texas coast, passed overwhelmingly 316-90.
The no votes by the four Texans were striking given the drubbing the state took from the storm, with clean-up and rebuilding costs estimated to exceed $180 billion. Rep. Roger Williams, R-Austin, also objected to tying the disaster aid to extending the debt limit but voted for the bill anyway.
None of the four members who voted against the bill represent districts affected by the storm. U.S. Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, both Texas Republicans, voted for the measure on Thursday.
Barton voted against the bill despite having organized a bipartisan lunch Thursday of all 38 U.S. Texas lawmakers to coordinate Harvey assistance.
“Earlier this week, I voted for an emergency relief package for victims of Hurricane Harvey,” Barton said. “That package went to the Senate, where it was attached to a much larger public debt ceiling extension.”
The veteran lawmaker said that, as a result, he voted “no” Friday to the Senate version — with nearly double the amount the House had approved for Harvey restoration. “I am not against voting for relief programs to help hurricane victims, but I am against raising the public debt ceiling without a plan to reduce deficits in the short term, and eliminate them in the long term,” Barton said, promising to work on budget reforms timed to the end of the credit limit extension in December.
Hensarling, chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, said, “On Sept. 6, I voted for the $7.6 billion of emergency aid for my fellow Texans suffering from the ravages of Hurricane Harvey. I expect to vote for more emergency aid to ensure our fellow citizens are out of harm’s way and have the food, shelter and medicine necessary to sustain them. What I’m not prepared to vote for is even more national debt without the opportunity to offset it with lower priority spending.”
“The unsustainable national debt remains the greatest existential threat to our nation that is routinely ignored in Washington,” said Hensarling. “If unabated, we will one day be unable to respond to similar emergencies as Hurricane Harvey.”
Thornberry, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said, “Disaster assistance should be considered on its own – not to advance another agenda. I voted on Wednesday for a clean emergency disaster funding bill for Hurricane Harvey that passed the House with overwhelming support. Those affected by disasters need help from Washington, they do not need more of the same political games.”
Johnson, who is retiring next year, did not respond to a request for comment.