Vice President Mike Pence said Monday the federal government has adequate funding on hand to deal with the historic flooding and damage done by Hurricane Harvey, possibly looking to tamp down concerns that Congress could get into a spending fight over the cost of the storm’s aftermath.
Lawmakers from hard-hit Texas and Louisiana say they expect Congress will have to add a Hurricane Harvey aid bill to its packed autumn agenda. But Pence told a Houston television station that could be unnecessary.
“In speaking with FEMA officials, we truly believe that we have the reserves to address the financial burden of this crisis,” he said.
But the VP left open the door that the administration might have to ask lawmakers for more aid dollars.
“Before I was vice president, I was a governor,” the former Indiana chief executive said. “Before that, I was in the Congress. And we’re very confident that the Congress of the United States is going to be there to provide the resources necessary.”
The federal bill will only grow as the flood waters subside and residents assess the damage.
“We actually anticipate that as many as a half a million people in Texas will be eligible for and applying for financial disaster assistance,” Pence said, “and we remain very confident that with the reserves and with the support in the Congress, we’ll have the resources that we need.”
Back when then-Rep. Mike Pence was chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee and Hurricane Katrina spawned deadly flooding in New Orleans, he argued against a massive aid package.
“We simply can’t allow a catastrophe of nature to become a catastrophe of debt for our children and grandchildren,” Pence said in 2005 as the RSC proposed offsets — other federal cuts — to the proposed Katrina aid package.
When then-President George W. Bush pressured many Republicans, the Katrina measure passed — but Pence’s push for offsets took root.
In 2012, Republicans objected to then-President Barack Obama’s proposed $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package, which walloped New Jersey and nearby states. The party’s demands held up that package for several months before former Speaker John A. Boehner gave in to pressure and brought it to the House floor. Even with the pressure, 157 House GOP members voted against it.
Several Republicans from Sandy's damage zone, including New York Rep. Peter T. King and New Jersey Rep. Frank A. LoBiondo, say they will not hold it against several of their Texas and Louisiana colleagues who voted against Sandy relief and will support any aid for Harvey victims.
Democrats, meanwhile, reminded their colleagues in the majority that the National Flood Insurance Program expires at the end of next month, adding further weight to the September agenda.
“Republicans must be ready to join Democrats in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Monday. “With the National Flood Insurance Program expiring at the end of September, House Republicans must also move swiftly to ensure that affordable flood insurance continues to be available to communities across our country.”
Lindsey McPherson contributed to this story