By: Sachi Madan, Contributor
With Hurricane Harvey striking on August 25th and causing heart wrenching scenes of chaos in the Greater Houston Area, it seems that storms have been brewing in Washington D.C. as well. While the Republican agenda for the next couple of months originally included dealing with the fiscal crisis and immigration reform, they have been unable to pass any significant legislation despite their majority in Capitol Hill. In other words, the conservative agenda that was set and the course they were hoping to take has now become damaged goods due to emergency attention given to Harvey.
President Trump and the Republican majority in Congress have been unable to push the conservative budgetary policies they desire to see implemented in the US, with the Affordable Care Act not being repealed or replaced. As such, the government currently has less money than originally planned since they are still giving out funds as welfare to those who are in need. After their failure to repeal Obamacare and prior to Harvey making landfall, the Republicans of the House were hoping to vote on a spending bill that would move $876 million away from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to use in other parts of the government where they need it. But with the money needed to rebuild the lives of people affected mounting, Washington is in dire need of finding a method of funding and is trying to funnel more money towards FEMA rather than away from it. With 450,000 people in need of disaster assistance and whole communities in need of rebuilding, the cash reserve is falling short. While cutting federal financing towards healthcare is an opportunity to bring more money into the government as was the previous plan, it has not been favored in Congress as of yet and is an option that is taking away money from those who are underprivileged and in need of it. It is now up to Capitol Hill and The White House to figure out a policy that will channel money towards disaster relief without taking large sums of money away from departments that require it.
A unique solution lies within bipartisan policies. The first part of solvency involves temporarily raising the income tax for every member of the working population by 1% and channeling that money directly & specifically for aid in areas impacted by Harvey, an inherently Democratic idea. Let’s understand the maths behind why this will help. According to Statista, in July of 2017 there were 127.54 million people employed on a full time basis in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labour Statistics, the average wage for full time employees in the United States in 2016 was $44,148 per year. When you increase the tax on the average salary by just one percent, you’re generating $441.48 more per person, which is $56,306,359,200 of total extra money flowing to the government from extra tax. Barely pinching $400 from the average wage earner and allowing for adjustments between wage brackets by basing it off how much a person earns, this method allows for a vast collection service that can effectively raise money to channel towards Houston. An example of where taxes have been raised to generate profits for a community project is in Seattle where the road tax or annual car registration cost was increased by 0.8% for every resident of the Greater Seattle Area. This generated enough money to build the Seattle Light Rail Transportation System which is currently underway and allowed the government to help fund this project without having to spend more money that they did not have. Since Mr Trump and the House and Senate majorities are both Republican, a raise in income taxes probably won’t happen, but it is worth noting that both Ronald Reagan and H. W. Bush raised taxes during their presidencies in order to fund projects and help the economy. Additionally, the second part of the solution I am proposing is inherently more Republican – it gives tax breaks to firms and corporate companies who are willing to invest in businesses and infrastructures to rebuild communities and jobs in Houston. This is effective in helping to simulate the economy in Houston after people are moved back and the city is being rebuilt. The healing process goes past just putting people back into their homes – the resettlement and remedial process for Hurricane Katrina lasted until as late as 2012. This part of the solution helps with that long term aspect in mind. Not only does this help companies to actually rebuild businesses that were damaged by the hurricane, but it helps new businesses invest in the area and helps these businesses with hiring & developing. These businesses will thus be able to generate more profits, and local citizens will be earning more money. Eventually, the majority of that extra profit will be used to help rebuild the areas affected by Harvey and speed up the healing process. This money being generated and handled at the local level can help Houston get back on its feet quicker, and will ultimately replace the tax increase put nationally on people as mentioned before because it will be able to generate a similar amount of money that will not be handled by the government and can simply be used at the local scale. This fiscal policy may help to rebuild Houston with a bipartisan focus by taking the lens off of which party is right and using both liberal and conservative policies that are effective to aid an area that needs help.
However another aspect in which the Republican agenda has been disrupted due to the hurricane is immigration reform. While the Republicans are known to have a strict stance on immigration and are certainly not in favor of undocumented immigration, the situation has changed due to the hurricane, leading to policy makers having an even larger dispute over the issue. While President Trump is deliberating getting rid of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), an Obama Administration program which protects undocumented immigrants who came here as children without a say in the matter, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan inherently disagrees with Mr Trump. Despite both being Republicans, Ryan calls for the decision of whether to repeal or not to be made after a while and with more consideration instead of delivering the verdict on Tuesday as is currently expected from the White House. When analyzing the reasoning, it seems sound. A number of the “Dreamers” protected by this policy are affected by Hurricane Harvey and are not only in need of help, but are also giving help where needed throughout the region as volunteers. One such story was that of Jesus Contreras, reported by NBC News. The hurricane has caused a huge rift in the Republican stance on this issue and many Republican members of the House are pressuring Mr Trump to delay his decision and reconsider.
Additionally, it must be seen that while Republicans generally have a harder stance against undocumented immigration, the undocumented immigrants also play a major role in aiding the healing process after Hurricane Harvey, thus further blowing apart the Republican agenda. After Hurricane Katrina, a large portion of the construction workers that helped were both documented and undocumented immigrants despite construction labor generally being in low supply across the country. The same situation applies for Harvey, and it definitely makes the debate on immigration more contentious in the upcoming time as Democrats turn on Republicans while Republicans turn on each other.
Overall, Hurricane Harvey has disrupted the plan that Republicans were aiming to follow over the next few months. As the Trump administration approaches a year in office, these next few months will be critical in how they work to rebuild from devastation and deal with this tragic national crisis. In the meantime, saving lives in Houston is a huge priority and bipartisan solutions should be used to deal with the financial and immigration problems surrounding Harvey. The fiscal solution detailed above is an option, and upcoming immigration policy changes must be reconsidered. The next steps that are taken by the government should be taken cautiously but promptly – the clock keeps ticking and people are still in danger. What we should do as citizens of this country is donate money and pray for the people who are affected.
Photo Credits: By Office of the Speaker (https://twitter.com/SpeakerRyan) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons