Shame on Kansas and Missouri Republicans for voting against Harvey relief bill

Victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma need our help. But nine Republicans in Congress decided last week to make a meaningless political point and oppose disaster aid.
Victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma need our help. But nine Republicans in Congress decided last week to make a meaningless political point and oppose disaster aid. AP

Nine U.S. House members from Kansas and Missouri, all Republicans, voted against providing federal funds to help Houston residents recover from Hurricane Harvey. One senator — Jerry Moran of Kansas, also a Republican — joined them.

It’s hard to overstate the anger and shame their constituents should feel about those votes. At a time of great need, our elected representatives turned their backs on our neighbors to make meaningless political points.

And the hypocrisy. Let us count the ways:

▪ Rep. Ron Estes, a Kansas Republican, voted no. His district includes Greensburg, which received at least $40 million in federal aid after a 2007 tornado destroyed the community.

▪ Rep. Billy Long of Missouri voted no. His district includes Joplin, which received $174 million in federal assistance within the first six months after the 2011 tornado there.

▪ Rep. Sam Graves of Missouri voted no. In 2011, following flooding along the Missouri River, Graves begged the White House for help.

“Due to multiple disasters and the scope of existing and expected damage, we truly believe federal assistance is needed,” he wrote.

Reps. Vicky Hartzler and Blaine Luetkemeyer, both of Missouri, signed Graves’ letter. Both voted no last week.

▪ Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas voted no. Since 1993, there have been six federal disaster declarations in Johnson County, for flooding, ice storms and a tornado.

▪ Moran voted no. This spring, he asked for “maximum flexibility” from the Agriculture Department, which allocated $6 million for farmers and ranchers who suffered losses from wildfires in western Kansas.

Other indefensible no votes: Rep. Lynn Jenkins of Kansas and Reps. Ann Wagner and Jason Smith, both Missouri Republicans.

Since 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has spent $849 million for public and individual assistance in Missouri following natural disasters. In Kansas, FEMA has spent $910 million. More? According to the Government Accountability Office, Kansas ranked ninth in the nation in federal disaster spending per person between 2004 and 2011 — far ahead of Texas, California and New York. Missouri was 19th.

All of this seemed to matter little to our representatives, who said they were worried because the Harvey relief was attached to a bill temporarily raising the nation’s debt ceiling.

Ridiculous. Emergency relief bills are attached to other measures all the time — some Hurricane Katrina relief was packaged with additional spending for the military, for example.

The debt ceiling vote is a political gesture, a way for members to pontificate while their colleagues actually govern.

And it’s beyond galling for members to claim they actually supported disaster relief, but wanted to use the debt ceiling vote to cut government spending.

Disaster relief — in Houston, Kansas City, Joplin — is additional government spending. It’s no different than spending for a new battleship, or for government programs that help the elderly, the sick, or a kid who wants to eat lunch.

Lawmakers who truly want to reduce the deficit can walk away from tax cuts for the wealthy.

Then, as the bills from Harvey and Irma roll in, they can remember why we spend on disaster relief: Their victims are our neighbors, and they need our help. Someday, we’ll ask for help from them.