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As Harvey continues to slam the coastal parts of Texas and Louisiana, Congress is starting to plan how to address the need for disaster recovery, rebuilding of infrastructure, and reshaping of affected areas.
The debate over funding has already been reignited political conflict between Texas Republicans who voted against Hurricane Sandy aid and some lawmakers from the Northeast where the storm hit in 2012. But it is virtually guaranteed that Congress will pass some sort of package soon after it returns from its August recess.
Based on the latest negotiations and discussions, it appears there are three avenues Congress could take:
- Multiple, targeted bills: According to Politico’s Burgess Everett and Sarah Ferris, one idea from Republicans is to dole out money for Harvey relief over a series of bills that target specific needs. “My view has always been that multiple bills are fine, but you’re better off to pass multiple bills knowing what the costs are than some number that no one can really justify,” Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership, told Politico. One major standalone relief package: Most major storms of the past few decades have received a lump sum from the federal government spent over time via various agencies. Congress passed a nearly $52 billion bill a week after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf. It passed a $50 billion package two months after Hurricane Sandy. Many Republicans, however, criticized the lump approach after Sandy because it included at least some money for projects unrelated to the storm. But a single bill would still most likely serve as a down payment, with the total recovery needs unknowable this early. Attach the bill to another must-pass piece of legislation: Another option that has been floated is attaching the relief package to a must-pass piece of legislation like a bill to raise the debt ceiling or a continuing resolution to fund the government. Such legislation would make it tough for members to vote against the package and would probably draw more support to a large relief package.
GOP Sen. Tom Cole told Politico that Congress may require extra time to assess the damage of the storm, but he stressed that the body would pass something. Thirty-four GOP senators votes against aid for Hurricane Sandy.
“Most of the people who couldn’t bring themselves to vote during the Sandy thing, now the shoe’s on the other foot,” Cole said.