The White House on Friday asked Congress for an additional $44 billion to respond to the three major hurricanes that hit the United States this summer, but key Democrats and at least one Republican said the request was insufficient, suggesting a funding fight looms.
If Congress approves the money, the U.S. government will have spent close to $100 billion in response to the three deadly storms, Harvey, Irma and Maria, that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), in a Twitter post, called the White House’s request “wholly inadequate.” Texas has sought much more than $44 billion, just on its own. A number of the funding projects Texas has targeted are long-term, and the White House said Friday it would keep reviewing funding needs and come back to Congress with future requests.
Congress had already appropriated $35.8 billion in disaster relief funding for the storms and had approved another $16 billion in debt cancellation moves to help stabilize the National Flood Insurance Program.
“The request also includes costs of repairing Federal property, replacement of lost or damaged equipment, and, in a limited number of cases, extraordinary personnel costs that cannot be absorbed within current appropriations,” the White House said in a letter signed by budget director Mick Mulvaney.
But Mulvaney’s letter was different from prior White House requests for emergency money.
It included a request that Congress offset the cost of the funding with cuts in future spending, targeting specifically the nondefense discretionary part of the budget that Congress approves each year. This drew an immediate response from Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee.
“Just one day after pushing the House [of Representatives] to pass a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that would add $1.5 trillion to the debt, it is galling that the Administration is requesting offsets in exchange for helping Americans rebuild their lives, “she said in a statement. “Holding vital recovery funding hostage to unrelated and often divisive spending debates is wrong, and only delays fulfillment of our obligation to help disaster victims.”
Mulvaney, in the letter, wrote that there would likely be an additional request at a later date for more money necessary to help with the rebuilding of Puerto Rico. It said it was still working on a long-term plan with the U.S. territory, which saw widespread devastation from the storm, particularly to its infrastructure.
Of the new money, the White House said $25.2 billion would go toward disaster relief efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, $1 billion would go toward agricultural assistance, $1.2 billion for an education recovery fund, $4.6 billion for the repair or replacement of damaged federal property and $12 billion for a community development block grant disaster recovery program.
In addition, the White House asked Congress to approve new tax credits for families in California who are dealing with damages caused by wildfires there. It didn’t specify the total scope of the tax credits or how much this could impact the budget. Connected to this request, the White House said it would support legislation that made “houses of worship eligible for disaster relief funding.”
The request for new money comes as lawmakers are trying to agree on a new spending agreement to continue funding the federal government after early December, in order to avoid a partial government shutdown. It’s possible the hurricane response money could be wrapped up in that legislation, but Lowey’s immediate response to Mulvaney’s request for offsets show Democrats and Republicans have not yet worked out how a budget agreement would work.
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) said Congress would provide additional assistance but didn’t immediately indicate how much it would authorize.
“We appreciate the president’s new funding request and value our continued partnership on this effort,” Ryan said in a statement. “The House will review the request and work with the administration and members from affected states to help the victims get the resources they need to recover and rebuild.”