Two House members from Northwest Georgia were on opposite sides of the vote last week to extend aid to Puerto Rico, other storm-ravaged parts of the United States and to West Coast fire victims.
The measure passed the House by a 353-69 majority– including U.S. Rep. Tom Graves, R-Ranger, who represents Floyd, Polk, Gordon and Chattooga counties. The yes votes came from 189 Democrats and 164 Republicans, according to the House Clerk’s Office. All 69 no votes came from Republicans, including U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, who joined with a block formed mostly by his former colleagues in the House Freedom Caucus. Loudermilk, of Cass, represents Bartow, Cherokee and parts of Cobb and Fulton counties.
Loudermilk had this comment on why he voted no.: “The impact of natural disasters across America this year has been devastating. The cost to rebuild the infrastructure, businesses and structures devastated by these disasters will be extraordinary, but the cost of families losing their homes and their livelihoods is incalculable. As a nation, we have a duty to offer aid to our neighbors during times of disaster. Countless private and public relief efforts have been organized to provide humanitarian, medical and recovery assistance in all these areas. The response of so many individuals and organizations is a testimony to the charitable spirit and resolve of Americans.
“As a federal government, we also have a responsibility to provide support to the states and territories impacted by these disasters. That support includes resources, personnel, equipment and emergency funding. As representatives of the people, we also have a responsibility to the entire nation to ensure these resources are provided efficiently and responsibly. Unfortunately, the $36.5 billion emergency funding bill passed by the House today is not offset through cuts in other areas of government spending and, thus, will add to our already monstrous national debt.
“Furthermore, this legislation includes a $16 billion bailout of the National Flood Insurance program, which is already $30 billion in debt. This program is in desperate need of reform, and we on the Financial Services Committee have passed several measures to bring accountability and solvency to the NFIP; however, none of these reforms were included in this bill. Bailing out this program without requiring fiscal self-control will ultimately result in accelerating this insolvent program – or future bailouts by America’s taxpayers.
“I fully support providing funding and resources to areas of disaster in our nation; however, we have an obligation to the children of this nation – our nation’s future – to be more responsible and not saddle them with further debt. This is why I could not support this funding measure without a financial plan to pay for it.”
Joining Loudermilk in voting no from the Georgia delegation was Jody Hice, also a Republican from the 10th Congressional District which covers an area bordered by Athens, the eastern suburbs of Atlanta, south to almost Dublin and east to the western outskirts of Augusta. Hice is a member of the House Freedom Caucus.
Graves had this to say when asked for comment on his yes vote: “My thoughts and prayers are with the millions of Americans in Puerto Rico and elsewhere suffering in the wake of three hurricanes and vicious wildfires in the West. President Trump’s aid package is an essential funding priority and will help put these families on the path to recovery.”
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Here’s a look at how The Hill covered it:
Legislation to provide $36.5 billion in aid for communities affected by recent wildfires and hurricanes, including Puerto Rico, secured widespread support in the House on Thursday save for 69 Republicans. The votes in opposition included many members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, who believe government spending should not add to the deficit.
Freedom Caucus leaders like Chairman Mark Meadows (N.C.), Justin Amash (Mich.) and Jim Jordan (Ohio), voted against the aid package. The legislation provides $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster relief fund, $16 billion to address national flood insurance program debt and $576.5 million for wildfire recovery efforts.
It also provides $1.27 billion for disaster food assistance for Puerto Rico. The U.S. territory remains largely without power, with many residents still lacking access to food or clean water.
Rep. Mark Walker (N.C.), who leads the Republican Study Committee, also voted against the legislation due to the lack of offsets. “Hurricane aid shouldn’t be added to the debt. That’s akin to going to the Emergency Room after an injury, putting the charges on a credit card, and then pretending that the Visa bill is never going to arrive,” Walker wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.
The majority of the House GOP conference did vote for the legislation, including every member of the Florida delegation whose state was ravaged by Hurricane Irma last month. But six Texas Republicans voted against the bill: Reps. Joe Barton, Louie Gohmert, Jeb Hensarling, Kenny Marchant, John Ratcliffe and Roger Williams.
Barton and Hensarling also voted against a $15 billion package last month to provide federal assistance for victims of Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas in late August. Neither Barton nor Hensarling represent counties deemed disaster areas by FEMA.