When disaster strikes, Americans generally respond to the call. And despite the political sniping we've witnessed before Hurricane Harvey's floodwaters even had a chance to drain — from President Donald Trump's inappropriate boast about crowd size at his speech in Corpus Christi to the hypocrisy of Texas lawmakers who opposed relief funding for victims of Hurricane Sandy five years ago but now expect a big check from Washington for Harvey victims — the time is fast approaching for Congress and the White House to do the right thing and provide a record-breaking package of emergency aid commensurate with the enormous level of destruction caused by a record-breaking storm.
Yet before that check is signed, before taxpayers are put on the hook for what is likely to be tens of billions of dollars to assist the victims and rebuild communities like Houston and Galveston, there is one quite reasonable request that ought to be made: Let's not repeat our mistakes. Harvey wasn't just an anomaly; it was a warning. This country needs to be smarter about where and how it grows and how it prepares for coastal storms or else such emergency relief will be shamefully wasted with communities rebuilt only to be toppled again when the next major meteorological disaster arrives.
Years ago, disaster relief was regarded as sacrosanct. You appropriated aid first and worried about how to balance the federal checkbook later. But that's unlikely to be the case this time around. It was, after all, Trump's own budget director, Mick Mulvaney, who, as a member of Congress, proposed financing Sandy relief with across-the-board cuts to discretionary programs. Texas Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz falsely decried Sandy aid as costly pork barrel spending when there was actually precious little of that in the appropriation. Will offsets be required this time around?
Houston provides a case study in sprawl and, frankly, dumb growth. The city has been hit hard not just by a record storm (and, admittedly, there's no city in the country that wouldn't be devastated by the downpours that Harvey brought) but by its lack of planning. Houston is famous for giving a free hand to developers, and that has severely constricted flood controls, both natural (wetlands) and man-made.
The Trump administration may be in denial over climate change, but taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for such unbridled ignorance. Texas deserves our help, but some reasonable standards need to be in place or else Congress will just be wastefully and mindlessly throwing money at a problem that is destined to repeat itself, particularly with so many vulnerable coastal cities. The record books may have been rewritten by Harvey, but there's a good chance they'll be rewritten again soon enough. Forget one-year offsets; ignoring what's happening to the climate is far more financially ruinous.