- By Maria Recio American-Statesman special correspondent
The U.S. House passed a $36.5 billion emergency funding package Thursday to help victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and California wildfires, a day after Gov. Greg Abbott urged the 36 House members from Texas to vote against it.
Abbott’s harsh criticism of the bill in a Houston Chronicle story Wednesday — and of the Texas GOP members of Congress, in particular, as “spineless” — for falling short of what he expected, prompted late night meetings with Texas lawmakers and House leadership. On Thursday, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., made a dramatic entrance at the weekly Texas GOP delegation lunch carrying his phone with Abbott on the line to broker a resolution.
U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who was at the luncheon, said, “I think we’re always better together working as a united front. The good news is: we’re united.”
The result was that House leaders promised another spending bill in 30 days to include funding that Abbott and Texas lawmakers had requested. Under the procedures that the bill was being considered under, it could not be amended.
Abbott spokesman Matt Hirsch said, “Gov. Abbott was assured by House leadership that, as soon as November, Texas will get the disaster assistance funding we’re requesting for Army Corps of Engineer projects, Community Development Block Grants, and funding for dredging Texas ports, expanding bayous and critical flood mitigation projects, among other priorities. The governor will hold House leadership to that promise on behalf of Texans whose lives were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. In the meantime, the governor and the Texas delegation will continue working together as a team to help Texans recover and rebuild.”
The Texas GOP lawmakers who are on the spending committee that was responsible for the bill, Reps. John Carter of Round Rock, Kay Granger of Fort Worth and John Culberson of Houston, identified $15 billion in the bill that will go to Texas, notably an injection for the depleted flood insurance program, which has pending claims from thousands of Texans in the Houston area affected by Harvey and $4 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund for Texas.
The measure passed 353-69, with six Republican members from Texas voting against it: Reps. Roger Williams of Austin, Joe Barton of Ennis, Louie Gohmert of Tyler, Jeb Hensarling of Dallas, Kenny Marchant of Coppell and John Ratcliffe of Heath. None are from areas affected by Harvey.
All of the 69 “no” votes were from GOP members.
Williams said in a statement that the National Flood Insurance Program “urgently needs an overhaul, and until the House passes legislation that reforms this fractured program, I cannot support a $16 billion bailout that further kicks this problem to the future.”
Carter, Granger and Culberson said in a joint statement, “Our top priority is to make sure money doesn’t run out in the next few weeks for Texas homeowners eager to rebuild their homes, as well as communities counting on FEMA funding for temporary housing, debris removal and infrastructure repairs for roads and schools.”
According to a news release from Granger’s office, “In a telephone call with members of the Texas delegation, Gov. Abbott expressed his commitment to continuing to work with the Texas congressional delegation and congressional leadership to ensure that Texas has the resources needed to recover and rebuild.”
McCaul said, “The governor certainly got attention from leadership,” noting that Texas lawmakers were already asking for more for Texas. “We, the delegation, approached leadership and said, ‘This is not good enough for our state.’” McCaul said that lawmakers were taken aback by Abbott’s harsh words: “Nobody likes to be called ‘spineless.’” Asked if Abbott apologized, McCaul said, “No.”
The Austin lawmaker said that Texas GOP members urged Abbott to visit Washington and meet with President Donald Trump to press his case for additional disaster relief money for Texas.