(The Center Square) – Federal disaster aid remains elusive because of political gamesmanship in Washington as Louisiana residents struggle through Hurricane Ida’s lasting impacts and the remaining effects of natural disasters dating to last hurricane season.
After visiting New Orleans and other hard-hit areas of southeast Louisiana following Hurricane Ida, President Joe Biden agreed to request supplemental recovery aid from Congress. The request also included long-sought assistance for southwest Louisiana, which has endured four declared natural disasters since August 2020.
Louisiana’s supplemental funding, however, has been lumped into a $28 billion natural disaster package that is tied to raising the nation’s debt ceiling – a highly political affair.
House Democrats passed a $3.5 trillion government funding bill that would raise the current $28.7 trillion debt limit to an undetermined amount and allow Democrats to use a procedural process known as reconciliation to pass trillions of dollars in social spending, climate change agenda items and election reforms without any Republican votes.
The construction of the spending proposal led to Louisiana congressmen voting against disaster aid for the state.
U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., who represents southwest Louisiana, voted against the legislation and predicted the House bill would fail in the U.S. Senate.
“Our hurricane recovery needs should not be held hostage,” Higgins said. “I support a clean bill that includes the disaster relief we’ve been demanding for a year.”
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., who is from Ida-affected southeast Louisiana, thanked Biden for authorizing hurricane funding relief and proceeded to vote against the House spending proposal because of what he called a debt ceiling “poison pill.”
“At the last minute, Speaker (Nancy) Pelosi added a poison pill to the bill that allows the Biden Administration to increase the national debt from the current $28,700,000,000,000 ($28.7 trillion) without limit. The current debt is equivalent to $87,000 for every man, woman and child,” Graves said in a statement.
Democratic congressman Troy Carter, who represents New Orleans, applauded the spending bill, saying it contains “crucial funding for Louisiana disaster recovery for the state to rebuild from Hurricane Ida and other recent disasters.”
“Louisianians have been through a lot and this bill recognizes that struggle. It also helps us to begin working on those challenges,” Carter said.
U.S. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged no Republican support for the $3.5 trillion House measure, which he said plays “Russian roulette” with the U.S. economy.
Moderate and progressive Senate Democrats also are at odds over the bill's multitrillion price tag, which not only complicates disaster relief and the national debt ceiling debate, but also a scheduled Monday vote on a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said he and the progressive wing of the Senate would not support the infrastructure bill if the $3.5 trillion government funding proposal was lowered.
U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., who helped negotiate the bipartisan infrastructure agreement, echoed that Louisiana's disaster assistance is being “held hostage,” which he said was “inexcusable.”
“Recovery after [Hurricane Ida] is a two-pronged approach," he said Thursday on social media. "It starts with disaster aid, but finishes with the bipartisan infrastructure bill to prepare us for the next storm before we're back in the same situation."
Louisiana’s other U.S. Senator, Republican John Kennedy, met Wednesday with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and U.S. Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, in Washington to discuss the state's recovery needs.
Shelby is the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Collins is the lead Republican on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.
“Our people are desperate, and we have to help them. It’s that simple,” Kennedy said in a statement. “The fact that Louisiana stands strong in the wreckage of category 4 storms doesn’t mean we should stand alone. Our state sends a lot of tax dollars to Washington, and Louisianians need a little help now.”