Rep. Mark Meadows: Congress, don't play politics with Hurricane Harvey relief and the debt ceiling

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Washington, DC, September 6, 2017 | comments

by Rep. Mark Meadows | Sep 6, 2017, 12:01 AM 

Texans are suffering. Texans need help.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, hundreds of thousands have been left homeless, displaced, and broken. Many families are returning to their hometowns, some still separated from loved ones, to face the heartbreaking reality of losing everything they spent a lifetime working for. For many children, parents, and grandparents of Texas, the road to recovery will be a long and difficult one.

Our neighbors in Texas need relief. It's on Congress to do our job and give it to them.

One would think that in light of the urgent circumstances, the path forward would seem obvious: Congress should craft a relief bill for Harvey victims that works in lock-step with the concerns of state officials and distinctly addresses the needs of Houston and surrounding communities. Such a bill should stay on a safe, reliable track to swift passage in both chambers from beginning to end.

This should be relatively easy to do. A true relief effort for hurricane victims is not a partisan issue.

However, in Washington we are notorious for making our jobs far more difficult than they need to be. Speaking nothing of how we often fall short in keeping our promises, we frequently play an unnecessary game of politics with key issues -- using must-pass legislation such as disaster relief as a vehicle to sweeten unrelated, contentious bills that may not otherwise pass as stand-alone measures.

This bad habit played out extensively during the Hurricane Sandy relief debate in 2013 — a debacle that has lately been front and center in the news as Congress moves toward drafting a relief package for Hurricane Harvey.

Back then, Congress used Hurricane Sandy aid legislation to attach several completely unrelated spending projects that had nothing to do with relieving the people of New York and New Jersey. These projects included $150 million for Alaskan fisheries, $2 million to repair the Smithsonian's leaky roof, and $8 million for new cars and equipment for the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice -- just to name a few. As a result, Hurricane Sandy victims saw their much-needed assistance put in serious jeopardy.

One would hope that congressional Republicans have learned from our mistakes and will now respond by focusing a recovery bill toward true relief efforts rather than entirely separate side projects.

Old habits die hard. Four years later, a GOP-controlled Congress is poised to repeat the same fiasco — this time by combining Hurricane Harvey relief spending with a bill to raise the debt ceiling, the deadline for which expires on Sept. 30. House leadership is essentially planning to use Harvey relief as a vehicle to sweeten a debt ceiling bill that would otherwise be controversial as a stand-alone vote.

We have known the debt ceiling deadline was coming for months. We should have handled the issue before leaving Washington for August recess, well ahead of the September deadline. Nevertheless, we once again find ourselves buried in the same self-imposed dilemma — making critical decisions up against looming deadlines and using an urgent need such as hurricane relief spending to facilitate the ill-advised result of our own procrastination.

Putting aid for Harvey victims in limbo because of our own inability to handle pressing deadlines in a timely manner is not only inappropriate, but it sends the wrong message to millions of Americans in Texas and millions more who put us in Washington to do a job. We owe them better.

As Congress moves forward, it is our responsibility to keep Hurricane Harvey relief on a safe, reliable track to passage. We should quickly pass a bill to assist victims with no add-on's, no pork spending, and no attachments to gain leverage over separate issues.

The people of Texas have seen their lives turned upside down. Their road ahead will be difficult enough without Washington, D.C., needlessly getting in the way.

Congress, don't play politics with recovery.

Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., represents North Carolina's 11th District. He is chairman of the House Freedom Caucus.

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