Finally, the long-awaited disaster aid measure wound its way out of Congress and on Thursday, President Donald Trump signed it.
Lawmakers gave the measure final congressional approval on Monday by 354-58 in the House’s first significant action after returning from a 10-day recess. It was backed by all 222 voting Democrats and 132 Republicans, including the GOP’s top leaders and many of its legislators from areas hit by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. Fifty-eight Republicans voted “no,” including many of the party’s most conservative members.
The Senate had already given its OK to the measure.
The bill started out as a modest $7.8 billion measure, and a $14 billion version advanced in the House in January and ballooned to $19.1 billion by the time it emerged from the floor last month, fed by new funding for community rehabilitation projects, Army Corps of Engineers water and flood protection projects.
As the measure languished, disasters kept coming — with failed levees in Arkansas, Iowa and Missouri and tornadoes across Ohio just the most recent examples. The measure was supported by the bipartisanship in both House and Senate.
There are three thoughts here. One, preparing for the next disaster is just as important as repairing damage from the last one. Two, coming up with flood projects and plans such as the proposed Ike Dike, details of which are still being debated, are steps toward preparing for the next storm. Three, the big hurdle on getting those plans funded by Congress.
Given the uncertain nature of politics, when and if the funding is approved by Congress is anybody’s guess.
Consider that Hurricane Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008. In 2015, a project began to study ways to protect the coast from storm surge such as occurred during Hurricane Ike.
With the estimated price tag for the Ike Dike in the Galveston area between $14 billion and $19 billion, getting all the funding at once seems to be unlikely.
Seeing how a handful of conservative Republican lawmakers in the House held up the disaster aid bill last week, objecting on three occasions to efforts by Democratic leaders to pass the bill by a voice vote requiring unanimity, it’s going to take a large measure of bipartisanship to get the Ike Dike funding or future flood control projects.
We’ve commented in the past about how it seems that the fracture in Congress is greater than it has been a long while.
And that is a shame.
• Dave Mathews