Handing out thick three-ring binders detailing his plan, Abbott met with the White House budget officials, as well as Senate and House leaders, in a bid to secure funds that he says are critical not just to the Lone Star State’s recovery, but the U.S. economy and national security.
His request is nearly double that of a $36.5 billion emergency spending measure that Congress approved in recent weeks, a bill that bypassed his recent bid for nearly $19 billion in Harvey-related aid.
And it comes as Washington lawmakers wrestle with other high-dollar aid requests after a spate of hurricanes devastated coastal states and territories and wildfires ravaged California.
Still, Abbott expressed hope that his message resonated with Washington leaders.
“We’re making clear that what we’re asking for is not unusual when you consider the size and scope and population impacted by this storm,” Abbott said, adding that Harvey eclipsed hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in scale.
“We’re not asking for any handout or anything unusual, but asking for funding that will flood-proof our region,” he said.
Meanwhile, Texas Sen. John Cornyn -- who is holding up the confirmation vote of a key White House budget official until Texas sees new Harvey aid -- expressed worry a new disaster relief request won’t be taken up in November, despite earlier assurances from the Office of Management and Budget.
“We’re just trying to close all those holes and eliminate as many excuses we think they can come up with to delay the funding,” he said.
Topping the behemoth Hurricane Harvey recovery proposal is $37 billion for Army Corps of Engineers flood control and navigation projects and $15 billion for community development block grants, according to the Associated Press. Part of the money would be used to buy out or flood-proof thousands of properties in low-lying areas.
Abbott told reporters the plan includes projects listed in the $18.7 billion request he and the Texas delegation made in early October.
The governor’s trip to Washington comes just weeks after he accused House lawmakers of “lacking a stiff spine” in negotiations over the $36.5 billion disaster relief package -- a dispute that led to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican leaders phoning the governor.
At the time, a few Texas Republicans shot back that in order for them to sell the request to fellow House members, Abbott should make a detailed case in Washington.
That tension wasn’t on display Tuesday, as several House members, both Republican and Democrat, emerged from a late meeting with Abbott.
Lubbock Rep. Jodey Arrington -- a Republican who said he worked on projects to help the Gulf Coast rebuild after Katrina for the George W. Bush administration -- said it means a great deal to House members for Abbott to provide them with a detailed proposal.
The Texas delegation needs “the information to back up what we’re asking our colleagues to support,” he said. “We would ask them for the same if it was California and it was an earthquake.”
It’s unclear whether Texas will see the more than $60 billion Abbott wants amid competing requests and initiatives, such as the GOP’s bid to rewrite the nation’s tax code.
Cornyn, the majority whip, said lawmakers are still "working on a number” but are “certainly not giving up, by any means.”
He said he’s working on additional spending requests with lawmakers who represent other storm-ravaged states and territories, such as Florida and Puerto Rico, "to make sure we're united" and "make sure we don't get forgotten in this process."
Earlier this month, Cornyn said he received assurances from the White House that a Harvey measure could come up as soon as November. But he's worried that a relief measure could be rolled into a politically fraught omnibus appropriations bill in December, instead of a standalone measure. That, he said, imperils its chances.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also said “procedural wrangling” could mean the request is rolled into the December omnibus.
“My hope is we should take it up as a supplemental, directed as disaster relief, and that’s certainly what I’m urging our leadership,” he said.
Abbott, for his part, said Texas “may or may not” get all of it in the first round of funding “but as the president has made clear, he is proud of the way Texas has responded, he wants Texas to continue to respond very effectively.”
In September, Congress approved a $15.3 billion disaster aid bill. It later approved a series of tax relief measures as part of a Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization.