Texas officials seeking federal aid in the wake of Hurricane Harvey have come under heightened scrutiny after previously voting against a $50.5 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package. Speaking to MSNBC correspondent Katy Tur on Monday, however, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz defended his vote against the Sandy relief package by claiming that "two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy."
“What I said then and still believe now is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster when people are hurting to pay for their own political wish list," Cruz said. The Texas senator argued that the Sandy relief package had been “filled with unrelated pork," and that those who were calling out his apparent hypocrisy were engaged in "political sniping." But Tur didn't let Cruz dodge these criticisms.
“It’s not really political sniping,” Tur told Cruz. “These are people who needed money and who needed funding right after that storm.” Tur added that she covered the victims of Hurricane Sandy in her reporting: “Many of them, just like those in Houston, lost just about everything they owned.”
There were two main facets of aid following Sandy. First, an uncontroversial vote gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency a $9.7 billion increase in borrowing power for flood relief; that was in late 2012. Then, in January 2013, the more contentious $50.5 billion relief package was approved, but many Republicans — including Cruz — voted against it.
According to a report from the Congressional Research Service, almost all of the provisions from the $50.5 billion aid package pertained to damage caused by Sandy. At the time of the bill's passage, Paul Ryan was the chairman of the Budget Committee. He argued back then that emergency spending money needed to be offset by budget cuts in other areas, and he criticized “non-Sandy expenses” purportedly detailed in the bill, such as “sand dunes at the Kennedy Space Center, highway repairs in the Virgin Islands, and roof repairs in Washington, D.C.”
However, Ryan's criticism — which was echoed by other Republican lawmakers — was misguided because it failed to recognize the extent of the damage that Sandy caused outside the New York and New Jersey areas. The "roof repairs" Ryan alluded to, for example, were actually requested by the Smithsonian Institution, which had to confront roof leaks caused by heavy winds and rain.
It is possible, as The Washington Post noted, that Cruz actually intended to criticize the slow projected spending rate of emergency funding after the storm, but his argument that the Sandy relief bill was “filled with unrelated pork" does not hold up.