Texas Republicans in Congress once stood nearly united against a bill to send billions of dollars in aid Northeastern states recovering from Hurricane Sandy. Sen. Ted Cruz even ripped the legislation as “a Christmas tree” with billions of dollars in extraneous goodies.
New York and New Jersey Republicans haven’t forgotten the slight. And with Hurricane Harvey wreaking devastation down South — and Congress beginning to contemplate what will likely be a massive aid package — the tough-on-spending Texans could find themselves in an awkward spot.
“The congressional members in Texas are hypocrites, and I said back in 2012 they’d be proven to be hypocrites. It was just a matter of time,” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told reporters Monday. “We were the disaster that was the longest in waiting in terms of federal aid, and I hope that’s not what happens to the folks in Texas.”
Christie’s comments came as GOP lawmakers from the region also vented their frustration at how Texas Republicans handled Sandy aid — even as they said they wouldn’t repeat history in return.
“Despite my TX colleagues refusal to support aid in #SouthJersey time of need, I will support emergency disaster $$ for those impacted,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) tweeted on Monday morning.
Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) took aim directly at Cruz.
“Ted Cruz & Texas cohorts voted vs NY/NJ aid after Sandy but I’ll vote 4 Harvey aid. NY wont abandon Texas. 1 bad turn doesn’t deserve another,” King tweeted over the weekend, as Harvey continued to pummel Houston.
It’s the reason disaster aid has largely been a bipartisan issue in Congress: Every lawmaker’s district may, at some point, need federal assistance. And it’s also the reason taking a rigid anti-spending stand on disaster relief is a risk: now that Texas needs help, the lawmakers who once opposed aid to the Northeast are getting nicked by colleagues for hypocrisy.
“Many Texas reps and notoriously, @SenTedCruz fought against Sandy aid, so crucial to CT,” said Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.). “Going with my better angels to fight FOR Texas aid.”
The rare public rebuke by two fellow Republicans — and less surprising Democratic criticism — underscores the frustration felt by many lawmakers whose districts were similarly hammered by Sandy. New York and New Jersey ultimately received aid amounting to nearly $60 billion, but not until conservative lawmakers attempted to pay for the package with spending cuts to other domestic programs.
“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,” Cruz said at the time.
Cruz reiterated his complaint on Monday. The Sandy bill, he said on MSNBC, was “filled w/ unrelated pork.” A spokesman for Sen. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas), who also ultimately voted against the final Sandy relief package, emphasized on Twitter that Cornyn was supportive of the measure until “extraneous $ for non-relief items” was added.
It’s unclear whether Cruz will apply the same standards for federal aid this time. On Monday, Cruz said he appreciated assurances from President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that “full federal assistance” would be ready to help Houston rebuild when the storm fully passes.
President Donald Trump, too, predicted Monday that there would be “fast” action on a spending bill to send aid to Texas.
It’s unclear how large an aid package will be needed. Rain was still pelting the Houston area late Monday, and the precise extent of the apparently massive damage to the area was uncertain.
But the Trump administration seemed to indicate that more federal aid would be coming.
“I think what you’re going to see is that the national government, and we anticipate the Congress, are going to make the resources available to see Texas through the rescue operation, through the recovery,” Vice President Mike Pence said in an interview with Houston’s KTRH.
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hinted at previous GOP reluctance to authorize disaster aid in a statement issued Monday afternoon.
“Republicans must be ready to join Democrats,” she said, “in passing a timely relief bill that makes all necessary resources available through emergency spending.”
There’s no indication yet that congressional leaders are coordinating a relief package. It’s too early for them to assess the funding needs for the region. But President Donald Trump is slated to huddle with congressional leaders next week to outline the September agenda, and the issue of disaster aid is certain to come up.
Katherine Landergan contributed to this report.
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