In a sign of the potential risks Republicans face by balking at disaster relief, a GOP sophomore appears to have quickly softened his view on Superstorm Sandy recovery spending after becoming a target of critics, including a local newspaper.
Even though his southeast Mississippi district benefitted greatly from federal aid after Hurricane Katrina, Republican Steven M. Palazzo was among the naysayers on Jan. 4, when the House passed, 354-67, a $9.7 billion increase in the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program.
But after visiting communities in New York and New Jersey that were hard hit by the late October storm, Palazzo spoke of his “unwavering commitment in advocating for the next round of assistance to be considered in Congress.”
“Now is the time for the federal government to provide immediate relief to those affected by the storm,” Palazzo said in a statement Tuesday. “I am fully committed to providing the relief they so desperately need.”
Palazzo’s trip was part of an effort by his fellow Republicans from New Jersey and New York to line up the necessary GOP support for two measures the House will consider on Jan. 15. The first (HR 152) would provide $17 billion and is focused on meeting the immediate needs of communities hit by Sandy, such as providing an extra $5.4 billion for the Disaster Relief Fund. The second measure, already slated as an amendment to the first bill, would provide $33 billion largely for long-term recovery and repairs to be done through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and by sending out grant money to communities.
“I would welcome any of my colleagues to come to New Jersey before the scheduled vote on January 15th, so they can truly understand how vital these funds are to the recovery and the residents of New Jersey,” said Rep. Jon Runyan, R-N.J., who was one of Palazzo’s hosts on Tuesday.
Palazzo’s vote against raising the borrowing authority of the flood program made him a target among national, and often liberal media outlets, such as the Huffington Post and Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show.” But the outrage expressed by a local newspaper may have been more worrisome for Palazzo, who first won his seat in 2010 by defeating 11-term Democratic lawmaker Gene Taylor.
“Seldom has a single vote in Congress appeared as cold-blooded and hard-headed as one cast by Rep. Steven Palazzo, R-Miss., last week,” said a Jan. 7 editorial in the Sun Herald of Biloxi, which serves his district.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency warned last week that the flood insurance program would have to delay payments on more than 115,000 claims until Congress acted to increase the borrowing authority. Palazzo defended his vote in an earlier article in the Sun Herald as an attempt to rein in growth of the federal debt.
“People from South Mississippi have told me everywhere I go, ‘Steven, y’all have got to get your financial affairs in order. We’re not going to have a future,’” he said. “There are going to be no opportunities for my children.’”
But the Sun Herald noted that Palazzo, then chief financial officer for the Biloxi Public Housing Authority, called for immediate federal aid after Katrina hit the Gulf states in 2005.
“No member of Congress should have been more supportive of this measure than Palazzo. As the congressional representative of Hurricane Katrina’s ‘ground zero,’ Palazzo should have had nothing but sympathy and empathy for those in need of this legislation,” the paper said.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., who has been talking often with the New York and New Jersey delegations about Sandy recovery expenses, on Tuesday said he expected Palazzo to be a “natural leader for disaster relief reform in the 113th Congress.” Palazzo serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, which has jurisdiction over FEMA.
House Republican leadership appears to be working to remove some potential obstacles from the passage of the Sandy aid measure. The House Rules Committee has asked members to submit their proposed amendments by 4 p.m. on Jan. 11, because there may be a rule that “could limit the amendment process for floor consideration” of the Sandy recovery package. Putting the Sandy legislation on the floor without such restriction on amendments would raise the odds for conservatives in their quest to demand savings from other programs to offset disasters costs, and to seek to whittle down the spending in the measures.