Alford: Louisiana once again waiting on Washington

(File photo)

Like characters in a Samuel Beckett play, folks in Louisiana are waiting on Congress to show up and help with hurricane recovery efforts. Each passing day brings with it new promises of federal funding, yet the sun rises and sets with little hope of immediate arrival.

The House, along party lines, endorsed a multipart legislative package last week that tied hurricane recovery dollars to other spending priorities from the Biden Administration and a proposal to hike the nation’s debt ceiling. The politics were sticky at best, with Republicans accusing Democrats of a wild money grab that essentially held hurricane money hostage. 

The approach created an uncomfortable political environment for the Republican members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation. Our GOP House members voted against the legislative package and have since become targets for criticism, mostly by Democrats.

Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell, for example, wrote a letter to the editor this week accusing the GOP House members of turning their backs on Louisiana. The state Democratic Party is also using the House vote to raise money. In a recent email appeal, the party said it needed help holding lawmakers accountable for voting against $28.6 billion in disaster relief.

U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy followed suit Monday evening when the upper chamber failed to advance the spending package. Both men were critical of the Democrats who linked hurricane aid to the debt ceiling proposal and other spending. 

So where does that leave us? What’s the next move or backup plan?

Republican staffers on the Hill say their bosses want a clean disaster bill that stands alone and isn’t connected to the debt ceiling and other White House priorities. More than likely, that’s where this is all headed.

“It’s a process, but we’re going to get there,” says Paul Rainwater, a senior consultant with Cornerstone Government Affairs who previously served as the director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority and as commissioner of administration. “Eventually there will be a clean bill with disaster supplemental funding for hurricanes Laura and Ida. We’ve met with the leadership on both sides of the aisle and I feel like everyone is trying to work towards a resolution.”

Gov. John Bel Edwards spent part of last week in Washington, D.C., as well lobbying policymakers. He told them that the relief money in the legislative package would help Louisiana significantly, but would only be a down payment, especially with mounting housing challenges left in Hurricane Ida’s wake. (The $28 billion is for all hurricane-affected states, not just Louisiana).

Temporary housing has emerged as a top priority in certain corners of southeast Louisiana, particularly the Terrebonne-Lafourche region. Louisiana House Speaker Pro Tem Tanner Magee of Houma has become a leading voice on this front, using media interviews and his own Twitter account to bring attention to the issue.

Urgency, however, is growing across all of the parishes touched by hurricanes this year and last. In Lake Charles, our neighbors have been waiting for a year for a substantive response out of Washington. In places like LaPlace, where entire neighborhoods have been decimated, this week marks a month since Hurricane Ida made landfall.

Louisiana is once again waiting on Congress as politics guide the process. Fortunately, lawmakers are approaching some important deadlines, so we may see legislative action again sooner rather than later. If Congress doesn’t pass legislation to address the debt limit and fund government operations, there could be a government shutdown on Oct. 1, which is just a few days away.

Jeremy Alford publishes LaPolitics Weekly, a newsletter on Louisiana politics, at LaPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter, or on Facebook. He can be reached at JJA@LaPolitics.com.