Back in 2013 the main weather event that captivated the US press was Hurricane Sandy, a storm that smashed into the East Coast of the United States severely impacting people in Florida all the way up to New York. Indeed New York was one of the worst states hit as the storm surge hit Staten Island and resulted in hundreds of thousands of people in the North East without power and many were forced to flee. The narrative of this storm is that the United States pulled together in this time of crisis, as personified by Governor Chris Christie hugging President Obama after the storm hit New Jersey, but this is not the case. Some Republican senators instead opted for political point scoring and now their hypocrisy needs to be called out.
Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas have called on federal authorities to declare the state as a the site of a ‘major disaster’ so that funds can be released to help stranded residents. The letter from the two senators was sent to President Trump on Friday after Texas Governor Greg Abbott appealed for help from Washington. In a joint statement reported by The Hill, Cruz and Cornyn said:
“Given the potential catastrophic impact that the hurricane may have on Texas communities, we strongly support this request and urge you to provide any and all emergency protective measures available by a major disaster declaration”.
Nobody would begrudge these senators for acting in this way because their job is to represent the concerns of their constituents, and in a time like this these concerns are immediately obvious. However what it important to highlight is the hypocrisy of these two individuals. Back in 2013 HR 41, which provided FEMA with an additional $9.7 billion to help those affected by Hurricane Sandy, was approved by Congress and President Obama on the same day. In the Senate the agreement was achieved by a voice vote of the chamber so there is no record of which senators voted for or against the bill.
A few weeks later the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act was proposed by Republican Congressman Harold Rogers of Kentucky. The bill, also known as HR 152, was estimated to cost $50 billion over ten years and would allocate funds to federal agencies to rebuild those parts of the United States that were impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Cruz and Cornyn, however, both voted against this legislation. When this point was raised on NBC News Cruz said that “two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy” and was full of “unrelated pork”. Senator Cornyn’s Communications Director Drew Brandewie also tried to fend of criticism on Twitter: “he opposed [the] final bill because it [included] spending on non-emergency items like repairing fisheries on the West Coast, not [because] it wasn’t offset”.
This approach to HR 152 reveals how myopic and narrow-minded these two senators are because these criticisms are nothing but political maneuvering. Take the example cited by Brandewie, that the bill allocated fund to repair fisheries on the West Coast. This statement is an accurate, there was money put aside to do this, but the follow up question from these senators should have been why. The answer is simple. When a weather event hits a specific region of the country, the agricultural output of that region is also hit. By allocating funds to other parts of the country, more food can be produced and shipped over to the region hit by the storm. To argue that this is a waste of money demonstrates a profound lack of understanding about how to deal with natural disasters.
Cruz’s statement overtly states that he believed that a majority of HR 152 was not about relief for those impacted by Hurricane Sandy. And my request would be to point to something specifically. For example, Chapter 2 of Division A of the bill allocates funds for the Department of Commerce. This doesn’t seem like an immediate priority as the first action of the authorities would be to keep people safe by providing them with food, water and shelter. However this money was specifically allocated for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to, among other things, improve weather forecasting technology, thus giving states in future the ability to more effectively mitigate the impact of large storms. I don’t think that it is reasonable to argue that this constitutes a waste of government funds or “unrelated pork”.
John Cornyn and Ted Cruz should be held accountable for their hypocrisy but in truth they are not the only ones. In the House 23 Representatives from Texas, all of whom were Republican, voted against HR 152, however I would hazard to guess that they would love to see such a bill in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. what’s more important though is that there were people who voted against this bill at all.
A part of a politicians job is to represent the wishes of their constituents, but another part is, supposedly, to do what’s right for the whole country. All those members of Congress who voted against funds for people who were made homeless by a hurricane are morally bankrupt. Cruz and Cornyn are just examples of this and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they would have voted a different way is Republican heartlands were those affected by Sandy. But two wrongs don’t make a right and there are thousands of people in Texas who need help and nobody should vote against relief for the victims for Harvey. Anyone who does should hang their head in shame.