South Carolina’s congressional delegation is vowing to make sure the state gets federal help to recover from the historic flooding from massive rains.
But less than three years ago, the Republican-dominated, conservative delegation opposed a $51 billion relief bill to help mid-Atlantic states like New York and New Jersey rebuild in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, which dealt that region a devastating blow.
On Tuesday, Gov. Nikki Haley said that “we’re not going to stop” until the state gets “everything we need to get back up and running and fixed again.” Already, the state’s two GOP senators say they'll support Haley, a fellow Republican, in obtaining recovery funding as estimates come in.
“The governor’s going to be making the request, and we'll certainly be there as part of the process,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Scott of North Charleston. “But the amount can’t be determined at this point.”
Never miss a local story.
In January 2013, five Republicans in the House delegation voted against Sandy aid after the superstorm. So did Scott and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-Seneca, in a vote later that month.
In fact, just 49 of 232 House Republicans voted to provide the Sandy storm aid. U.S. Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-Indian Land, offered an amendment to require that $17 billion worth of the package be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget.
At the time, Mulvaney said: “I wish very much that we could pass this and easily borrow the money without any questions whatsoever, but we’ve wasted that opportunity. We’ve mismanaged our own finances to the point where we are now no longer capable of taking care of our own.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn of Columbia, a member of the House Democratic leadership team, supported the aid package.
In the wake of the S.C. flooding, Republicans who opposed Sandy funding seem to be having a change of heart.
“Rep. Rice thinks we need to have a discussion about the role of the federal government in disaster relief,” said Alex Eline, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Tom Rice, R-Myrtle Beach. “That being said, to the extent that we have damages in South Carolina, we are covered by law and he believes we need to get the full benefit of that. We will seek funds necessary to cover the needs of our district as a result of this catastrophe.”
There is almost $6 billion in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund for immediate needs. But more money is likely to be required. Big flood disasters like Sandy and Hurricane Katrina usually generate far greater damage than other disasters.
“There will be a time for a discussion about aid and how to pay for it, but that time is not now,” Mulvaney said. “The danger is still real, and it is immediate. Keeping folks safe is the priority right now.”
The Sandy aid bill had a relatively difficult path through Congress. It advanced in the wake of the 2012 election that gave President Barack Obama his second term and as Obama was using leverage over Republicans to muscle through a tax increase on upper income earners. Some Republicans said Obama’s performance after the storm and praise from Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, helped Obama seal his re-election.
The measure also included items for earlier disasters and drew criticism from some government watchdogs and Republicans for such spending.
“What I opposed was the piling on of projects,” Scott said. “All types of projects that had nothing to do with it that took the number up by several billion dollars.”
The Sandy aid bill moved through with support of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and then-Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., the leading candidate to replace Boehner when he steps down at the end of the month. The other announced candidates for leadership posts opposed the Sandy measure.
“There is a reason we call this the United States of America and that’s because we’d respond to any fellow Americans who find themselves in the midst of tragedy as we see in South Carolina,” U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., said Tuesday.
“That’s why I keep reminding my colleagues ‘there but for the grace of God, go I.’ It can happen to you next.”