With the nation’s fourth-largest city under water following an unprecedented rain storm, it is likely that congressional Republicans will abandon a plan to remove nearly $1 billion from disaster relief to fund President Donald Trump’s wall on the Mexican border.

However, it shouldn’t take a devastating hurricane to prove to lawmakers the necessity of disaster preparedness at a time of increasingly frequent disasters, and it shouldn’t take an actual emergency to show the border wall plan for what it is — a cynical waste of taxpayer money.


The $876 million cut to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund is part of massive spending bill to be consider soon in the House. The savings was meant to pay for half the cost of the down payment on Trump’s much-promised wall.

Now, with disaster relief suddenly much more than a line item in a budget following the devastation in Texas, that tradeoff doesn’t seem like such a good idea.

In reality, it never was. The Republicans who drafted the bill — including Appropriations chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, a “major force” in securing relief funding following Superstorm Sandy, according to The Associated Press — couldn’t have known that Hurricane Harvey was coming, but they had to know a destructive storm of some sort was inevitable, if not in Houston than somewhere else.


Scientists have always been careful when discussing the link between human-caused climate change and extreme weather. But they do say, at very least, that climate change makes hurricanes worse and perhaps more frequent — the latest U.S. Global Change report says that human activity “contributed to the observed increase in hurricane activity” in the Gulf of Mexico, echoing an earlier U.N. report.

Rising temperatures have warmed water and put more vapor in the air, making the storms more intense. Indeed, intense rainfail along the Gulf is increasingly frequent. In just one example, some areas of Houston given a 1-in-500 chance of flooding have now flooded three times in the last decade alone.

And following Hurricane Harvey, it will take years for Houston to recover. Only about 17 percent of homeowners in the affected counties had flood insurance, meaning the demand on government relief will be immense — nearly 200,000 people have already requested FEMA assistance. At the latest count, there are 35,000 people in shelters, nearly 300,000 without power. In the end, the relief necessary may exceed the $120 billion spent in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

That’s what it looks like when a problem demands the attention of government.


Contrast that with the wall, which would cost at least $22 billion to build, and which only serves to fulfill a facile campaign promise by President Trump to end what he erroneously says is an emergency along the Mexican border.


While a border wall may satisfy some sort psychological need on the part of some Trump voters, it won’t make America any more safe, and it won’t do much to help solve the country’s immigration issues.

Even if the myriad legal issues related to property ownership around the border can be overcome, a wall would likely be ineffective. Where walls and other barriers have already been built — in common crossing areas — they haven’t worked well.

More importantly, border crossings and apprehensions have been falling from historic highs for quite some time now, as has the number of immigrants here illegally as a whole. As many as half of those here illegally entered the country legally, then overstayed their visas — a wall won’t stop that.

Congress should take that to heart, because Trump won’t. Last week in Phoenix, he said he was prepared to “close down government” to force Congress to fund his wall.

But then came Harvey, and now hurricane relief funding has jumped to the top of list of Congress’ things to do, along with tax reform and raising the debt ceiling.

With so many people so obviously suffering, it will be difficult for Trump to play politics with the wall and hurricane relief, perhaps by trying to lump them together, daring Democrats to either vote for the wall, or for a government shutdown.

Instead, the hurricane should give congressional Republicans cover to abandon support for the wall, choosing to fight the real emergency in Texas, and to ignore the imaginary one.

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