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Post-Harvey: Will Texas Repeat Louisiana’s 2005 Money Grab?

Today’s Campaign Update

(Because The Campaign Never Ends)

  • Now that Hurricane Harvey has finally passed, leaving behind in Houston and East Texas a level of devastation unprecedented in U.S. history, the political games around securing taxpayer money at the local, state and national levels to help pay for the rebuilding effort will begin.  Given that Harvey wrought destruction from Corpus Christi all the way up the coast through the Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange Golden Triangle and into the Piney Woods communities of East Texas, we are talking about an area that is home to at least 8 million Texans.  Contrast this to Katrina, which, as terrible as it was, impacted New Orleans and surrounding areas that were home to just over 1 million Louisianans.
  • Normally in such situations, the most heated politics revolve around federal funds.  The federal government does have a disaster relief budget in its normal funding, but it will only be able to scratch the surface of a recovery and rebuilding effort that will be required for the nation’s 4th largest city and surrounding areas.  So, it will be up to the Texas congressional delegation to develop a proposal for a supplemental funding bill to shepherd through congress.  As we have seen in the past, such supplemental appropriations bills can become controversial, and vehicles for all members of congress to try to attach their own pet pork-barrel spending proposals.
  • In the wake of Katrina in 2005, the Louisiana congressional delegation, led by then-Senators Mary Landrieu andDavid Vitter, swung for the fences, bringing forward an initial proposal for a massive $250 billion appropriation that included funding for things like $35 million in marketing funds for the state’s seafood industry, $8 million for alligator farms and a $40 billion request for the Army Corps of Engineers, which normally spends about $400 million in the state.  This breathtaking money grab came after the George W. Bush Administration had worked with congressional leaders to push through $62 billion in Katrina-related recovery funding.
  • Twelve years later, now comes Hurricane Harvey, and a trail of devastation that is many times the size of the impact of Katrina.  Partisan politics in the nation’s capital were already polarized in 2005, but the situation today makes the politics of a dozen years ago seem like patty-cake by comparison.  A Texas delegation dominated by Republican members will have their work cut out for them in securing a supplemental appropriation that is sizable enough to truly help, and will need its Democrat members to work to secure vote from their own party, as many, many budget hawks in the GOP caucus will refuse to support any proposed legislation.
  • The Texas delegation will also need to strongly oppose efforts to turn a supplemental bill into a pork-barrel vehicle, as the national news media will be looking for any excuse to demonize members who represent a state that voted heavily for President Donald Trump.  Things could get especially uncomfortable for Senator Ted Cruz if he decides to become a sponsor for a supplemental, as he strongly opposed the supplemental bill for relief efforts for the Northeastern U.S. in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
  • But as is the case related to any disaster such as Harvey, opportunities present themselves as well.  For example, the Texas delegation will have an opportunity to ally itself with the Louisiana delegation related to a supplemental, given that Harvey also caused widespread damage to the Eastern half of the Pelican State.  Care will have to be taken not to revive some of the hair-brained pork barrel stuff that made its way into the Landrieu/Vitter Katrina bill in 2005, but the alliance of the two state delegations would help to build a strong base of support in congress.
  • For the Trump Administration, the opportunity relates to the President’s campaign promise of a national infrastructure spending bill.  The President has often spoken of his desire for a bill in excess of $1 trillion over ten years to help rebuild the country’s decaying system of roads, bridges and other key infrastructure.  The scale of the devastation in Texas and Louisiana from Harvey could serve as an anchoring point to the building out of a comprehensive national proposal.
  • Never have so many major “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects presented themselves in any region of this country at any single time as we are about to see manifesting themselves in Texas and Louisiana in the weeks to come.  It’s still a little too soon for the politicians to begin talking about all of this now, but as the flood-waters recede and the true scope and scale of the devastation becomes visible to television cameras, the political gamesmanship will and should begin in earnest.

Just another day in everything is politics America.

That is all.

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