Politics & Government

Why a congressman voted against a bill with money for disaster relief in his district

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, from Farmville, North Carolina, was one of 33 House Republicans to vote against Congress’ short-term stopgap spending bill on Thursday, designed to avert a federal government shutdown.
U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, from Farmville, North Carolina, was one of 33 House Republicans to vote against Congress’ short-term stopgap spending bill on Thursday, designed to avert a federal government shutdown.

U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, an independent-minded Republican who often rails against adding to the nation’s debt, was this week was one of just 33 GOP lawmakers in the U.S. House to vote against the short-term funding resolution that would send millions to his district in Hurricane Matthew recovery aid.

It wasn’t the hurricane relief money he’s opposed to but, instead, the parts of the “stopgap” spending measure that conflate ongoing debt and military spending problems, his office told McClatchy on Friday. Jones supports federal assistance funding for Hurricane Matthew recovery but wanted to see that money approved through standalone legislation, not tied to a short-term budget bill.

Many of the North Carolinians hurt by the October hurricane and related flooding live in Jones’ coastal 3rd Congressional District. The House bill appropriates federal money to N.C. to pay for a range of post-disaster needs, including help for farmers, people whose homes were flooded and ruined public infrastructure.

Jones wasn’t the only conservative member of North Carolina’s congressional delegation this week to lodge his opposition to the spending bill that earned bipartisan House support but is facing significant push-back in the Senate. The bill is designed to avert a federal government shutdown and, if approved by the Senate and signed into law, it will keep federal agencies functioning through the end of April 2017.

For the other N.C. lawmaker, U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-Greensboro, N.C., the opposition vote previews his work ahead as leader of the largest group of conservative lawmakers on the Hill.

Neither Jones nor Walker’s vote hurt the bill’s chances of passing in the House. It passed in a 326-96 vote. North Carolina’s three Democratic representatives supported the bill.

Jones’ office said Friday he was prepared to draft a specific Hurricane Matthew bill to ensure federal aid, had the larger spending bill failed.

House Republicans largely supported the stopgap measure to give President-elect Donald Trump and his incoming administration time to weigh in on federal spending priorities and the nation’s growing debt.

But, Walker and Jones both criticized the use of a short-term funding bill.

For Walker, the vote gives some insight into how he’ll approach leading the Republican Study Committee next year.

Walker, from N.C.’s 6th Congressional District, said in a statement following the vote he hopes the short-term budget bill isn’t a sign of how Congress will operate next year. Walker is chairman-elect of the Republican Study Committee, a group of conservative House members who advocate for a balanced budget and reduced spending.

The current RSC chairman, Rep. Bill Flores from Texas, joined the House majority in voting for the bill Thursday.

Walker’s opposition this week signals he’ll lead the RSC next year in pushing back against last-minute legislation often loaded with spending and provisions designed to solicit broad support from lawmakers.

His office said Friday that Walker prefers a short-term spending bill to “omnibus” spending packages used in year’s past. But, Walker wants to see budget legislation debated next year with enough time to allow for constituent feedback, Walker spokesman Jack Minor said. The stopgap measured introduced this week, he said, didn’t allow for enough transparency before the vote.

Walker’s statement Thursday called on Republicans to consider their approach to passing budgets as much as they consider their policy positions and spending priorities.

“This bill is a far cry from how our government should be funded and what priorities should be appropriated ... In the next Congress, we have to dedicate ourselves to being proactive, rather than reactive,” he said.

This story has been updated to correct that Rep. Walter Jones’ office was prepared to file a bill specific to Hurricane Matthew recovery funding but had not yet written that legislation.

Anna Douglas: 202-383-6012, @ADouglasNews