Houston begins massive Harvey recovery effort
Tens of thousands of flood victims were returning to their waterlogged homes in the Houston area this week to start a massive cleanup effort in the wake of Hurricane Harvey—now officially the second-most destructive storm in U.S. history. At least 70 people were killed when Harvey dumped more than 20 trillion gallons of rain on Texas and Louisiana, destroying up to 40,000 homes in the Houston area alone. As President Trump made his second visit to Texas to comfort victims, concerns grew over the city’s floodwaters, which are believed to contain a dangerous mix of sewage and pollutants from flooded oil refineries, chemical plants, and at least 13 nearby Superfund toxic-waste sites. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said that damage from Harvey could total up to $180 billion— more than Hurricane Katrina. “This is going to be a huge catastrophe that people need to come to grips with,” said Abbott.
The House overwhelmingly approved an initial $7.9 million Harvey aid package. Trump backed a Democratic proposal to add provisions to the relief measure that would extend government funding and raise the debt ceiling until December, in order to avert a fiscal showdown at the end of September. The announcement blindsided GOP leaders, who wanted to raise the debt ceiling for 18 months to avoid a divisive political fight ahead of the 2018 midterms. Meanwhile, the Coast Guard moved helicopters from Texas to Puerto Rico and Florida in anticipation of Hurricane Irma, a huge Category 5 storm expected to hit the U.S. over the weekend. “As soon as one ends, we need to make sure we are ready for the next event,” said Adm. Paul Zukunft, Coast Guard commandant.
What the editorials said
So far, Harvey has “not become synonymous with government mismanagement, as Katrina did,” said The Washington Post. But some 30,000 people remain displaced from their homes and officials still face “dicey public-health threats, such as toxic chemical spills, acrid smoke, and waterborne disease.” Half a million people may eventually need disaster assistance, said the Chicago Tribune. Repairing and rebuilding from a natural catastrophe this immense “will take not months, but years.”
Let’s hope Congress doesn’t behave the way it did after Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, said the New Orleans Times- Picayune. It took lawmakers 10 months to approve funding to help rebuild thousands of homes damaged by levee breaks around New Orleans. Seven years later, Sen. Ted Cruz and 21 other Texas Republicans refused to back a $50 billion aid package after Sandy devastated the Northeast, because the funding wasn’t matched by spending cuts. Shame on them. “Disaster victims shouldn’t be held hostage to a philosophical discussion.”
What the columnists said
Blocking the Sandy bill was the principled thing to do, said Ben Domenech in TheFederalist.com. The measure “was chock full of pork” that had no “relation to disaster relief.” That included $1 million for new cars for the Drug Enforcement Agency and $2 million “for the Smithsonian’s famously leaky roofs.” Cruz and company are still hypocrites, said Amber Phillips in The Washington Post. Harvey aid relief will probably have just as much pork in it—yet Texas Republicans intend to vote for it, all the same. Apparently it’s easier to stay true to your fiscally conservative principles when the wreckage of a natural disaster is “some 1,700 miles away.”
Lawmakers should aim their fire at the federal National Flood Insurance Program, said Jeb Hensarling in USNews.com. Harvey wouldn’t have caused so much damage without the subsidy program, which gives people “perverse incentives to build and re-build homes and businesses in flood-prone areas.” In one case, the NFIP paid nearly $1 million to rebuild one $120,000 Houston home that flooded 16 times in 18 years. It’s insanity.
Harvey has taken all the fire out of September’s legislative showdowns, said Jim Newell in Slate.com. The natural disaster gives GOP leaders an emergency excuse to “blow through must-pass obstacles” on the debt ceiling and government funding, postponing these toxic fights until December. And the relief bill allows Trump, who has so enjoyed “playing Mr. Hurricane Fixer Man,” his first real legislative win. For Republicans, there was never a better time “for 51 inches of rain to fall on America’s fourth-largest city.”