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    Monday, August 28, 2017

    Harvey Has Implications Beyond Houston And Coastal Bend

    Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with everyone in Houston. My nephew and his family, who had rebuilt and raised their home after the 2015 flood, were finally evacuated by a neighbor with a boat last night. They are the lucky ones. There are probably thousands of more people currently stranded and waiting to be evacuated from their homes. Right now, it is estimated that around 30,000 people will be forced from their homes because of the massive flooding. And if reports are correct, that number could easily rise even further.

    Of course, the priority right now is to get as many people to safety as possible. But the recovery from this massive storm will take years, not weeks or months. And there will be many questions and challenges along the way. In the immediate future, it will probably take a massive effort to just get power back to around 250,000 customers who have lost power up and down the coastal bend and the close to 100,000 in Houston alone. With the news this morning that at least one of the Houston's water purification plants is under water, the availability of drinking water as the recovery begins will also be a huge issue. So too is the risk of disease from the standing water that will surely remain. That will be followed by determinations of what buildings are even safe enough to return to and the massive costs of cleanup for the ones that are. It is clear that many houses and office buildings in Houston will be unlivable and unusable for months to come. And, as we have seen with Katrina and Sandy, it will take years for some communities to fully recover, if ever.

    There are also some serious political implications for this storm as well. The slow pace of recovery and the flow of government assistance always creates a backlash against the current administration. In the wake of Sandy in New Jersey, it was not only Bridgegate and Christie's national ambitions that sabotaged his popularity at home. It was the fact that, despite multitudes of promises, the cleanup on the shore took far longer and proved far more difficult than people were willing to stand for.

    In this case, the need for emergency funds may actually hasten the arrival of the debt ceiling, which Treasury Secretary Mnuchin claims will be hit by the end of September. In addition, there are a number of members of the Texas Congressional delegation who voted against federal aid for Sandy victims without corresponding budget cuts. Those votes may come back to haunt them at least politically now. Moreover, recovery from this devastating storm will require more than just a vote in Congress. The state legislature, having regularly scheduled session only once every two years, is specifically not designed to handle emergencies like this. This emergency will require yet another special session, one of which just ended a few weeks ago with the defeat of the Governor's "bathroom bill". And, because it's Texas, every session of the legislature brings out the right wing lunacy in attempts to pass all manner of crazy and dreadful ideas, such as the just defeated "bathroom bill". For both Congress and the Texas legislature, relief for victims of the storm will not be a one-shot deal. It will come up repeatedly in the next year or two. And one thing that Republicans have difficulty doing is spending money on anything that isn't related to the military.

    With Congress already under an incredibly tight time frame to deal with avoiding hitting the debt ceiling and trying to pass a budget, this disaster probably makes the likelihood of a government shutdown far less likely as that would be political suicide in this environment. It may also push back any discussion of tax cuts as it is clear there will need to be more money for FEMA and to fully fund the disastrous National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) in anticipation of the coming avalanche of claims. In addition, this disaster will probably mean the end of funding for Trump's wall. Trump is already facing criticism for cutting money from FEMA and the NFIP in order to start funding the border wall. And the prospect of spending money on the wall, or for that matter, cutting the budget in order to pay for tax cuts for the rich, while hundreds of thousands are suffering in Houston may be even too much for Republicans to stomach.

    Finally, there are broader economic implications as well. The economic loss to Texas is likely to be enormous and the effects of this storm will be felt nationally as it is sure that the price of gasoline will rise due to the damage to the oil production facilities in the region.

    The fact that Trump in particular and the Republican party in general is ill-suited to dealing with what really will be a long-term emergency requiring government intervention and monetary support is not likely to lead to a happy resolution for the victims in Houston and throughout the coastal bend. It's going to be a long and slow recovery for the region.

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