Two Florida Republican congressmen pointed Tuesday to irresponsible federal spending as the reason for their votes against a $19.1 billion disaster-relief package that would help portions of the Panhandle still recovering from last year’s deadly Hurricane Michael.
U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney of Naples and U.S. Rep. Greg Steube of Sarasota said they took principled fiscal stands against the package, which is designed to assist communities in more than 40 states.
Rooney said most of the package, which overwhelmingly passed the House on Monday after getting approved by the Senate last month, was never requested by the White House. Along with providing aid for communities damaged by hurricanes, it will send money to areas across the nation hit by flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, volcanic activity and earthquakes.
“It has become all too common for Congress to use disaster funding to break through spending caps that are in place,” Rooney said in a prepared statement. “There are legitimate needs for funding to assist with recovery from horrific natural disasters that affected Florida and other states around the country, however I could not support a bill that is completely fiscally irresponsible.”
Among Rooney’s objections were that the legislation covers disasters since 2015. Also, less than 30 percent of the money would be spent in the current federal fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and $55 million would go to Head Start educational programs.
“While I’m glad the Panhandle received the funding it desperately needed, I could not in good conscience vote for the supplemental appropriation which was filled with outrageous spending and no plan to pay for it,” Steube said in a statement. “I ran for Congress refusing to add to the national debt, and this bill had a high price tag with no offset.”
Steube and Rooney were among 58 Republicans who voted against the package; 354 Republicans and Democrats supported the measure, which now awaits approval by President Donald Trump.
Of the rest of Florida’s congressional delegation, 23 lawmakers voted for the bill, and two — Democrats Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson — did not vote.
Monday’s vote came after Republican congressmen three times blocked passage of the bill during a holiday recess. House leaders sought to pass the bill through a procedure known as “unanimous consent,” which does not require most members to be present.
Speaking on the House floor on Monday, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican from Panama City, expressed frustration with his GOP colleagues who blocked the measure, which includes $1.2 billion to rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base.
“Some of you will say your principles require a recorded vote, even though the contents of this bill have been known for months and debated for months,” Dunn said. “In fact, we had a chance to vote on the amendments to it just two weeks ago. For those upset at the cost, OK, spending in Washington is a problem, but are you actually willing to make an empty gesture about balancing the federal budget on the backs of Americans who have lost everything? Are you willing to force the airmen of Tyndall, the Marines at Camp Lejeune to halt the work to repair their bases because they ran out of money over a month ago?”
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who lives in Panama City, said Tuesday he remains “bent out of shape” with U.S. Reps. Chip Roy, R-Texas, John Rose, R-Tenn., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who each blocked, on separate occasions, the relief bill from being approved through unanimous consent.
“This could have been dealt with prior to Memorial Day,” Patronis said. “And, look, would it have gotten the money to come down any sooner? No, but you know what, there are probably a lot of folks that would like to have had some closure, that have been affected.”
Patronis called the actions of Roy, Rose and Massie “shameful,” and said, “If I was in their district, I’d vote them out.”
Roy, who was targeted by a group of Panhandle residents — through a full-page ad in the Austin American-Statesman newspaper — continued Monday to express concern about the amount of money being spent.
“I am still troubled we’re poised to spend $19 billion that is not paid for when we are racking up $100 million an hour in national debt,” Roy said.
Patronis, a former member of the Florida House, appeared more accepting of the votes cast against the bill by Steube and Rooney.
“It passed. I was on the floor of the (Florida) House a lot of times where there’s legislation or bills or appropriations that pass where there was dissenting votes,” Patronis said. “Am I happy with those guys (Steube and Rooney)? You know, I wish they’d have voted for it. I have not asked their rationale, what was in the bill that they didn’t like. But the money is coming.”
By Jim Turner
News Service of Florida