In the span of a few weeks, the U.S. mainland has faced two storms of immense power in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have faced the wrath of these hurricanes and must now rebuild after the destruction they caused.
Hurricane Harvey was the first major hurricane to strike the U.S. mainland in 12 years and Irma followed closely on its heels, so the Federal Government had a considerable challenge on its hands in responding. I commend President Trump and his team for leading an able response, making sure that resources were on hand to minimize suffering and start rebuilding affected areas.
When faced with terrible natural disasters such as these hurricanes, I believe it is appropriate for the Federal Government to step in and provide assistance to relieve devastated areas. When a measure supplying more money came before the House of Representatives on September 6, I voted in favor of it.
It is not appropriate to use occasions such as funding for disaster relief to pass unrelated legislation. Unfortunately, this is what happened on September 8. The House of Representatives voted on legislation that combined a number of items, including suspension of the debt ceiling and funding for the Federal Government until December 8, with money for Hurricane Harvey cleanup. I object on principle to tying unrelated measures together to make them easier to pass, but this instance was especially egregious. By lifting the debt ceiling in a bill that also provided disaster aid, once again Washington let itself off the hook for dealing with our staggering national debt.
It is true that addressing the debt limit was given urgency by rapid response Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) spending for the hurricanes, which threatened to push the Federal Government over the limit. But a blanket increase in the debt limit was still not necessary. Two alternatives quickly come to mind that would have helped hurricane recovery efforts while not adding to our fiscal mess. One, we could have raised the debt ceiling specifically to cover the cost of disaster relief for Harvey and Irma. Two, we could have included in the measure some modicum of reform for federal spending to show that we are not ignoring the problem posed by the national debt.
America’s national debt is rapidly approaching $20 trillion. As of the afternoon of September 8, the total national debt equaled every citizen owing $61,322, according to the U.S. Debt Clock. This tremendous burden threatens the futures of our children and grandchildren. Providing assistance to clean up after a major disaster such as a hurricane is important, so I voted for the original bill providing that assistance. But our debt crisis is serious, too, and I can’t support a measure that raises the debt ceiling without doing anything to solve the underlying problem. The bill before the House on September 8 was a blank check for Washington to continue its spendthrift, budget-busting ways.
The debt crisis is no surprise to anyone, and long-term structural reforms are necessary to bring federal deficits under control. Each time the debt ceiling needs to be raised, it should be a warning sign. Even modest reforms that nudge spending in the right direction would have helped. Instead, Congress evaded the issue entirely.
Legislating is often a balancing act. Few bills are wholly good or wholly bad, so elected officials have to weigh the pros and cons of each particular bill. I think the Federal Government should be helping victims of natural disasters such as Hurricane Harvey, and my vote on September 6 reflects this belief. As the cleanup from Harvey continues and other storms threaten to create more destruction, I will work in Congress to make sure federal resources are available without requiring us to advance unrelated, irresponsible legislation.
If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.