Government Spending

Thomas Massie Catches Bipartisan Flak for Suggesting Congress Actually Vote on $19 Billion in Disaster Funding

Demanding that members of Congress be in town to vote on spending huge sums of money seems reasonable.


Libertarian-leaning Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) is catching flak from all sides of the partisan divide for insisting that Congress hold an actual vote before approving $19.1 billion in federal disaster aid.

On Tuesday, Massie objected to passing a massive disaster relief package by unanimous consent during a brief pro forma session being held while most members of Congress are out of town for a Memorial Day recess.

"If the Speaker of the House felt this was must-pass legislation, the Speaker of the House should have called a vote on this bill before sending every member of Congress on recess for ten days," said Massie on the House floor, adding later on Twitter that "passing an unbudgeted $19 billion spending bill without a vote of Congress is legislative malpractice."

Massie's objection came a few days after Rep. Chip Roy (R–Texas) did the same thing, opposing the bill over both process concerns and its lack of $4.5 billion in border funding.

The delay had produced bipartisan irritation.

"The heartlessness of House Republicans knows no bounds," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) in a statement. "Just days after sabotaging a bipartisan and bicameral bill to provide urgently-needed relief to millions of American families reeling from natural disasters, House Republicans have repeated their stunning act of obstruction."

"I just think that we can do a lot better by passing what's good rather than vote 'no' waiting for the perfect," said Sen. Kevin Cramer (R–N.D.), who voted for the disaster package in the Senate.

Congress has been trying to pass a disaster relief bill since January when the Democrat-controlled House approved a $14 billion aid package.

In early April, that bill failed in the Senate, as did a slightly more modest $13.5 billion Republican-backed bill—which included $600 million in food stamps for Puerto Rico, but omitted additional recovery funding Democrats also wanted for the island.

Holding things up, in part, was opposition from President Donald Trump, who objected to spending additional funds on Puerto Rico.

Shortly after those bills failed, and following floods and tornadoes in the South and Midwest, Senate Democrats introduced a new $17.2 billion disaster aid package. That bill also stalled for over a month after the White House demanded that it include $4.5 billion in spending on humanitarian aid and security operations on the southern border.

Finally, last week a compromise $19.1 billion disaster relief bill was agreed upon that excluded border funding.

According to a summary from the Senate Appropriations Committee, the bill includes $900 million for Puerto Rico, including $600 million in food aid and $300 million in Community Development Block Grants for the island. Other major line items include $3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild damaged infrastructure, another $3 billion to repair damaged military and coast guard facilities, as well as $3 billion in farm support programs.

Also included is another $2.4 billion in general Community Development Block Grants, $1.65 billion for damaged highways, $720 million to the U.S. Forest Service to combat wildfires, and $600 million in economic assistance to storm-damaged communities.

Despite the claims of urgency, much of the funding in the bill comes in the form of these Community Development Block Grants which, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found, often take years to disperse. The $3 billion in aid to farmers to cover crop losses stemming from natural disasters is in addition to normal federal price support programs and subsidized crop insurance.

Demanding that individual members of Congress be in town to vote on spending these huge sums of money seems reasonable, particularly given the small role the federal government has played historically in disaster relief.

"The federal government never used to have much of a role in natural disasters," Cato Institute's Chris Edwards told Reason in April. "It was up to states and local governments and private charities to respond to natural disasters. That system worked pretty well."

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  1. The federal government is a national disaster.

    1. Why do you hate America?

      1. America is not it’s government

  2. >>>The delay had produced bipartisan irritation.


  3. C’mon reason. If you’re going to devote an article to a particular piece of legislation, at least give us the Bill number so we can go out on and find out its legislative history – when it passed the Senate and was sent to the House, for example.

    I expect the Washington Post to leave such information out, but hoped for better from you.

  4. Massie (R–Ky.) is catching flak from all sides of the partisan divide for insisting that Congress hold an actual vote before approving $19.1 billion in federal disaster aid.

    Oh, very well. In addition, each congresscreature must swear under oath that it read the actual bill and provide written rationale for its vote.

    1. I’d like to see an operation like tough professors in college who randomly call on the guy who looks like he’s about to fall asleep to come up and expand on the merits of the bill.

      1. I once fell asleep in a physics lecture, was poked my neighbor who pointed at the professor staring at me expectantly. He said “Well, Mr. Percy?”

        I had no idea what the question was, but vaguely recalled what he had been saying before I dozed off, something about Gaussian surfaces.

        I said “Um, zero?”

        “Moving on.” He seemed somehow shocked and disappointed at the same time that I had given the correct answer.

  5. Since when has Congress been allowed to pass bills without a vote? Even if there’s a voice vote, there still needs to be a quorum.

    1. They’ll just deem a quorum.

    2. Twitter vote, in person is so 2012.

  6. It is normal parliamentary procedure not to vote if no one objects. Even if the full house were there and no one objected, there would be no vote. Not objecting is the same as supporting the motion or bill. Symbolic votes for no reason are frowned upon in parliamentary bodies.

    1. So is spending billions of dollars of taxpayer money without a quorum present to approve it.

  7. It was up to states and local governments and private charities to respond to natural disasters. That system worked pretty well.”

    No it didn’t work well. It was in fact almost always a clusterfuck. Best example is the Mississippi River flood of 1927. Or the 1906 earthquake once you understand the role it played in the 1907 panic. Or the 1928 hurricane. Or the 1889 Johnstown flood. Or the 1871 Peshtigo fire (which started the same day as the far more irrelevant Chicago fire). Or the Triangle Shirtwaist/Iroquois Theater/Coconut Grove/Natchez Hall/Brooklyn Theater fires. Or the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel poisoning. Or the Monongah mine explosion. Or the 1883 and 1888 blizzards.

    But hey – as long as an ideologue can simply make an assertion ‘it worked well’ and ignore ALL THE FUCKING DETAILS OF ACTUAL HISTORY; then I’m sure ‘it worked well’.

    1. We rebuilt and moved on, somehow though.

    2. According to Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy the State, charitable relief for the Johnstown victims was plentiful and quick. I don’t know if he was right or you are. Can you supply a reference?

      1. That flood was a huge media story so it was able to check the first box for getting private charitable relief. Get headlines. But it got that attention in large part because of the class angle – rich folks at South Fork Club caused a flood from their property and don’t give a fuck. Even then – with the added organizational agenda that Clara Barton wanted to make the Red Cross the go-to charity for disaster relief – the charity effort raised about 20% of the damages. Which was prob the ‘Pareto relief’ – did 80% of the necessary recovery. But the full recovery/rebuild took a decade or more (and 1/3 of the people simply left). The club did nothing – donated 1000 blankets = one blanket for every two dead people or one blanket for every 30 newly homeless. THAT failure is what created the change in liability law to strict liability. Johnstown Flood Museum

        Not every disaster gets headlines (see Peshtigo fire same day as Chicago fire – or the Schoolhouse Blizzard a month before the Great White Hurricane). Or there’s donor/volunteer fatigue. Or there’s charity fraud (see GoFundMe). Or those who cause problems and make things worse are also powerful enough to control local/state govt. Or there are externalities that hit far away (1907 panic was caused by monetary cash flows from the insurance proceeds re the 1906 quake).

        I’m no fan of fed involvement in this. But it needs a fundamental and pragmatic rethink – not just ideological ranting. If the previous m.o. had worked, then change (making it more federal) wouldn’t have happened then. Changes like that originate in previous failure not previous success.

        1. You can’t professionalize unless you federalize. Or so we were told.

          1. It’s probably true that the people who wanted to ignore the problems then were OK with leaving the problems exactly where they were and not talking about them either. So maybe it did need to ‘change levels’ to precipitate even a discussion.

            But there’s no reason it needed to permanently change levels – unless the folks who wanted to ignore the problems continued to want to ignore them and so could hardly be expected to implement anything better either. That was always the problem when those disasters also had different impacts cuz of race or class.

            There’s a legitimate civic problem when the lazy and corrupt can exert the equivalent of a heckler’s veto. idk the solution but I’ve never seen libertarians offer it.

  8. See this guy, Reason? THIS is a libertarian congressman.

    Fighting for liberty, not for Dems and the MSM to rub his belly.

    1. I’m with you.

  9. Wait a minute — as a compromise they spent more? Strangest bargaining I’ve ever heard of outside a comedy routine.

  10. Check out they guy who doesn’t know newspeak.

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