As Irma churned toward the Florida coast, two Republican lawmakers from the state voted against a $15 billion hurricane relief bill, saying that although they want aid to storm victims, they have concerns about other provisions of the measure.
The relief package, which sailed through the Senate and the House and was signed by President Donald Trump on Friday, boosts funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It will also raise the debt ceiling for three months and includes a short-term budget that would keep the government running until December – part of a deal struck between Mr. Trump and Democratic leaders Sen. Charles Schumer, N.Y., and Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Calif.
That latter was a problem for GOP Reps. Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho, who stuck to their principles of fiscal conservatism despite calls from fellow Florida lawmakers to support the bill. The two, who are among the 90 House Republicans who voted against the bill, do not represent parts of the state that are likely to feel Irma’s immediate impact as the massive storm makes landfall on mainland United States this weekend.
Yoho, who represents areas of northern Florida, said the disaster-relief bill should have been stand-alone legislation.
“Snaking in a debt-ceiling increase with funding for victims and communities affected is immoral and reflective of broken leadership in Washington,” Yoho said in a statement after the vote Friday. “I do not think it wise to extend our borrowing limit without mandatory spending reforms . . . If this was a clean measure that focused on those affected by Hurricane Harvey, I would have proudly voted for it.”
Gaetz, whose district includes coastal areas along the Gulf of Mexico, called the spending package “generational theft.”
“I have a pretty strident view that I will only vote to raise the debt limit if that vote is accompanied with reductions in entitlement spending,” Gaetz said, according to the Miami Herald. “If conservatives don’t start voting no against debt-limit increases, all the FEMA in the world won’t save us from our must unfortunate destiny.”
Both lawmakers had voted for a stand-alone bill that would provide nearly $8 billion in hurricane relief for FEMA. That version passed the House on Wednesday. But they and others soured after the bill came back from the Senate with double the funding and other provisions tacked on.
“I think anytime you start dealing with disasters and tying it to must-pass bills, it’s not a good thing for the American people,” Yoho said on C-SPAN before the vote Friday. “I don’t want to be hypercritical, but when you make a deal with Charles Schumer and Nancy Pelosi on a spending bill, a lot of times it can’t be good for the American consumer.”
Yoho said he opted to stay in Washington this weekend, but he plans to fly to Florida on Monday, when Irma is expected to reach his district.
“Of course, we want the assistance there, and I can feel comfortable saying that the American people will know that the assistance will be there for FEMA,” he added. “We just don’t want the political antics to be tied up with it.”
The bill passed 316-90, with 133 Republican votes.
Twenty-seven lawmakers, including 11 House Republicans from Florida, did not vote, as many were in their home state preparing for the hurricane. Among them are Reps. Ron DeSantis, Neal Dunn, Bill Posey and Dennis Ross, hard-liners who might have voted against the package in other circumstances.
Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, another Republican who skipped the vote and whose district includes part of Miami, urged colleagues to vote in favor of the bill.
“As Hurricane Irma approaches Florida, I would ask that all my Congressional colleagues reflect on the fate of Florida’s 20.61 million residents when they are asked to again vote on this vital emergency disaster funding as it comes back from the Senate,” Ros-Lehtinen said in a letter to House members Thursday.
Five Florida Republicans remained in Washington for the vote. Three of them, Reps. Brian Mast, Thomas Rooney and Francis Rooney, voted for the bill, as did all six Democrats who stayed.
Four Texas Republicans, Reps. Joe Barton, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and Mac Thornberry, rejected the bill for the same reasons that Gaetz and Yoho raised.
“I am not voting against relief programs to help hurricane victims, but I am against raising the public debt ceiling without a plan to reduce deficits on the short term, and eliminate them in the long term,” Barton said in a statement. “The money we vote to spend today will have to be paid back by our children and grandchildren.”
Thornberry criticized advancing “another agenda” by roping it with disaster assistance.
None of those Republicans, however, represents coastal areas affected by Harvey, which barreled through Southeast Texas last week.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, R, who skipped the Senate vote on the bill Thursday to prepare for Irma in Miami, said he would have voted for it “despite significant reservations” about the other items attached to it.
“As I have always done in the past, I support providing additional emergency resources for disaster aid and recovery. Disaster relief is an appropriate function of the federal government. And unlike some previous disaster relief legislation, these funds are to be spent immediately, and are properly targeted to assist the areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey and potentially Hurricane Irma,” Rubio said in a statement Thursday. “The rest of the package, however, contains items that under normal circumstances, and considered separately, I have opposed.”
The Senate passed the bill 80-17, with 33 Republican votes.