Idaho Congressman Butch Otter was among just 11 lawmakers this week to vote against the $51.8 billion hurricane relief supplemental funding bill – a measure he called “throwing money at a tragedy” and “simply irresponsible.”
The bill passed the House on a 410-11 vote. Otter, who is running for governor of Idaho, was the only House member from the Northwest to vote “no” on the measure.
“By approving this bill, Congress once again was rushing to act without seriously considering the consequences or alternatives,” the three-term Idaho Republican said in a statement. “‘Do something now, even if it’s wrong,’ is as bad a policy for government as it is for individuals. Millions of Americans are making personal sacrifices to help the victims of this disaster through private and community relief efforts. Each of them is counting on their money going where it will do the most good. There needs to be just as much accountability attached to how government spends the people’s money.”
The measure he opposed, H.R. 3673, included money for “costs of evacuation, emergency repairs, deployment of personnel, and other costs resulting from immediate relief efforts,” along with funding for medical care, “emergency expenses for repair of damage to flood control and hurricane shore protection projects in the Gulf States caused by Hurricane Katrina,” and for other disaster relief costs. It is the measure that includes $2,000 debit cards for affected families to use on immediate needs such as food and clothing. The bill requires at least weekly reports back to the congressional appropriations committee from the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Army Corps of Engineers on how the money is being spent.
Otter didn’t participate in the debate on the House floor, which included passionate statements in support of the bill from members including Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who said 5 million people in his home region need help. “What we are asking is to give them a little hope over the next few weeks so that we can take care of their needs and get them back up and running again,” DeLay told the House. “We are not just writing a blank check. We have … got safeguards built into this bill.”
Democrats objected to the process that brought the bill forward without offering them input or a chance to offer amendments, including reforms to FEMA, but they all supported the bill. “Obviously we are all going to vote for this,” said Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. It later passed the Senate unanimously.
Jerry Brady, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, called Otter’s vote “outrageous.” He said, “People and private property need to be saved – right now. Why is that hard to understand?”
The $51.8 billion funding bill followed an earlier $10 billion-plus measure, but estimates are that hurricane relief costs will continue to mount and likely will reach $225 billion.
Otter said in his statement, “I’m committed now to ensuring the victims of Hurricane Katrina get all the help they need, for as long as it takes. However, throwing money at a tragedy before understanding how to address it most effectively for the benefit of the people most in need is simply irresponsible.”