WASHINGTON — Texas Republicans now clamoring for federal money to aid their flood-stricken state overwhelmingly opposed a disaster relief package after Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast in 2012. They insisted then — and have repeated in recent days — that the legislation was packed with wasteful spending.
While the $50.7 billion package had non-Sandy money, it wasn’t as stuffed with pork-barrel spending as Sen. Ted Cruz and other Republicans have maintained.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and other Northeast Republicans are calling out Cruz and his fellow Texans who are seeking aid for their hard-hit state.
Here’s a look at the competing claims, and the reality:
CRUZ, in an NBC interview Monday: “The problem with that particular bill is it became a $50 billion bill that was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.”
CHRISTIE, firing back Wednesday on CNN: “I see Senator Cruz and it’s disgusting to me that he stands in a recovery center with victims standing behind him … still repeating the same reprehensible lies about what happened in Sandy, and it’s unacceptable to me. Absolutely unacceptable.”
REP. TOM COLE, R-Okla., in an interview with The Associated Press on Wednesday: “I think a lot of the people that voted against Sandy now have the shoe on the other foot, so they’re going to learn some lessons and I hope they do. We shouldn’t be trying to score political points out of natural disasters. And we have a lot of people trying to rewrite history. I mean, I’m sorry, there wasn’t a bunch of pork in the Sandy bill.”
THE FACTS: Congress actually approved two bills in response to the October 2012 storm, which resulted in more than 120 deaths and disaster declarations in 12 East Coast states and the District of Columbia.
One, approved overwhelmingly in early January 2013, provided $9.7 billion in additional borrowing authority for the National Flood Insurance Program.
The second bill, approved 62-36 in the Senate and 241-180 in the House, provided $50.7 billion in disaster aid and other assistance. President Barack Obama signed it into law on Jan. 29. A report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concluded that while the final bill included some non-Sandy related spending, it “largely focused on responding to Hurricane Sandy.”
The Associated Press reported that the Sandy aid package “was tinged with some bitterness for Northeast lawmakers who have complained that Congress approved tens of billions of dollars in aid within days of Hurricane Katrina (in 2005) but dragged their feet for more than two months on Sandy aid.”
Texas Republicans overwhelmingly voted against the final Sandy aid bill. Cruz and John Cornyn, now the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, both opposed the aid package, as did more than 20 House Republicans representing Texas.
Cornyn said this week he voted against the final bill “because it included other things weren’t Sandy Superstorm-related,” an argument also made by Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, whose district was hard-hit by Harvey.
“They had funding for things as far away from Alaska that wasn’t even touched by Sandy,” Farenthold said. “That was not a vote against disaster relief. That was a vote against pork-barrel spending.”
In truth, the final Sandy aid package did not include money for fisheries in Alaska and other states after complaints from conservatives about spending unrelated to the storm. The final bill stripped $150 million from the earlier, Senate-approved bill for fisheries disasters stretching from Alaska to Mississippi and New England.
Instead, the bill included $5 million for “necessary expenses related to fishery disasters declared in 2012 that were the direct result of Hurricane Sandy,” according to a 2013 report by CRS.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, who was then Budget Committee chairman, voted against the Sandy aid bill, calling it “the latest example of Washington using hardship to achieve political ends.”
Ryan, R-Wis., complained in a statement that the bill “funds billions in grants for non-Sandy expenses, sand dunes at the Kennedy Space Center, highway repairs in the Virgin Islands and roof repairs in Washington, D.C.”
The CRS report says the final bill included $2 million for the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, which suffered roof leaks from heavy winds and torrential rain, and $15 million to restore shoreline near the space center in Florida that was damaged in the storm.
The report does not list a line item for the Virgin Islands, but the bill included $2 billion for highway repairs.
The bill also included nearly $11 billion for the Federal Transit Administration for emergency and long-term repairs, with about half of that total directed to Sandy-related projects, the CRS said.
Another $16 billion was allocated for Community Development Block Grants that were aimed at Sandy relief but also could be used for “other eligible disaster events occurring during calendar years 2011, 2012 and 2013,” according to the CRS.
The report did not say why non-Sandy related disasters were included.
AshLee Strong, a spokeswoman for Ryan, declined to comment on the Sandy vote, focusing instead on Harvey and vowing to help those affected by the disaster.
Find AP Fact Checks at http://apne.ws/2kbx8bd
EDITOR’S NOTE _ A look at the veracity of claims by political figures