Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) attends a Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing for ambassadorships, on Capitol Hill, June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Jonathan Tilove, Austin American-Statesman
Tweeting that “1 bad turn doesn’t deserve another,” U.S. Rep. Peter King, R-New York, promised Saturday to support federal disaster assistance for Texas in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. That’s even though “Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts” voted against a 2013 aid package for New York and New Jersey after Superstorm Sandy.
Texas senators Cruz and John Cornyn were among 36 Republicans who voted against a January 2013 supplemental disaster aid bill to help devastated communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both Cruz and Cornyn contended that the bill the Senate passed was replete with irrelevant and wasteful spending, and Cornyn had backed a more limited Sandy relief package in December 2012, before Cruz entered the Senate.
“Hurricane Sandy inflicted devastating damage on the East Coast, and Congress appropriately responded with hurricane relief. Unfortunately, cynical politicians in Washington could not resist loading up this relief bill with billions in new spending utterly unrelated to Sandy,” Cruz said in a January 2013 statement. “Emergency relief for the families who are suffering from this natural disaster should not be used as a Christmas tree for billions in unrelated spending, including projects such as Smithsonian repairs, upgrades to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes and more funding for Head Start.”
“Two thirds of this spending is not remotely ‘emergency;’ the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only 30 percent of the authorized funds would be spent in the next 20 months, and over a billion dollars will be spent as late as 2021,” Cruz said.
“This bill is symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington – an addiction to spending money we do not have. The United States Senate should not be in the business of exploiting victims of natural disasters to fund pork projects that further expand our debt.”
Saturday night, Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier tweeted back at King: “Unreal. 2/3 of Sandy bill wasn’t emergency spending. It was chock-full of pork. Relief bills should be for direct relief, not pet projects.”
King has been a Cruz antagonist almost since his arrival in Washington, with the Texan’s Sandy vote an early trigger.
Cornyn spokesman Drew Brandewie tweeted Friday that the talking point that Cornyn opposed Sandy relief is common, but untrue: “He voted for Sandy relief, just not the package that became law. Final incl extraneous $ for non-relief items.”
That amendment by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, provided for more limited spending, but was defeated 54 to 41 Dec. 28, 2012, which was before Cruz entered the Senate. Then Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison joined Cornyn and 39 other Republicans in voting for it.
“The version that ended up passing, unfortunately, contained provisions unrelated to the storm and ‘emergency’ money that wasn’t requested by local officials there,” a Cornyn spokeswoman said Sunday. “He voted for a Sandy aid package without this unrelated spending, which included money for things like repairing fisheries in the Pacific.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund had a balance of $3.6 billion as of July 31 and had a projected balance of $1.45 billion as of Sept. 30. The House Appropriations Committee’s Homeland Security budget adds $6.8 billion for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.
But Harvey’s costs will certainly dwarf those figures and require Congress to grapple with how to more adequately replenish the disaster fund. A point of contention after Sandy was Republican insistence that increased disaster spending be offset by cuts elsewhere.