Congressman Matt Gaetz votes against bill that included disaster relief funds for Florida

Florida's 1st District Congressman Matt Gaetz voted against legislation whose passage freed up money for disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

By a 230-201 margin, the U.S. House of Representatives voted Friday to approve a continuing resolution that gives the Federal Emergency Management Agency access to $15 million in Disaster Relief Fund dollars to spend for relief to those impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Ian made landfall Wednesday in Southwest Florida as a Category 4 storm.

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The bill, signed Friday by President Joe Biden, also finances the federal government through mid-December and provides additional military and economic aid to Ukraine. Its passage averted a partial government shutdown set to begin Oct. 1.

The bill package includes only limited specific funding for recovery from Hurricane Ian, but it does provide billions of dollars for states recovering from natural disasters.

It also gives federal authorities the flexibility to spend money on disaster assistance, Politico reported, which could benefit Floridians in the short-term.

Only 10 House Republicans voted for the measure. Gaetz discussed his no vote on a recent podcast. He called the bill "legislation that harms our federalist system, deprives states of the ability to innovate, and continues the failures of the federal government."

Gaetz said the continuing resolution "empowers Nancy Pelosi," past the date of the midterm elections and "includes bad policy" such as providing $12 billion for Ukraine’s government and $1.2 billion to fund human trafficking at the U.S. southern border.

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, also voted Thursday against the continuing resolution, which passed the Democrat-controlled Senate. Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio was in Florida when the vote was taken and did not participate.

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Gaetz was among a group of House Republicans who had published a Sept. 19 letter ahead of the Sept. 30 federal funding deadline, pledging to "oppose any continuing resolution that expires prior to the first day of the 118th Congress, or any appropriations package put forward in the remaining months of this Democrat-led Congress."

"As the Sept. 30th federal funding deadline approaches, Republicans must do what is necessary to ensure that not one additional penny will go toward this administration’s radical, inflationary agenda," the letter said. "Any legislation that sets the stage for a "lame duck" fight on government funding gives Democrats one final opportunity to pass that agenda."

Scott and Rubio signed a similar document circulated in the U.S. Senate.

Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, has been consistent in his opposition to big spending bills, even though those bills hold money for disaster relief in Florida.

In 2017, he voted against a package that provided funding for victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Irma had severely impacted Florida.

"I voted for disaster relief when it was just an up or down vote on disaster relief but unfortunately Mitch McConnell and the swamp creatures over in the Senate sent back a bill that didn't just respond to disaster, it created over a trillion dollars in new spending authority," Gaetz said at the time. "That's the kind of addiction to spending that Northwest Floridians are against."

In 2019, following Hurricane Michael, Gaetz and Rubio claimed Democrats were holding up providing disaster relief funding to impacted Panhandle residents by "adding entirely unrelated items to emergency aid legislation."

On Sunday, Gaetz tweeted out a call for Congress to provide Hurricane Ian relief.

"Dear Congress: On behalf of my fellow Florida Man in grave need of assistance…. Just send us like half of what you sent Ukraine," the tweet said. "Signed, Your Fellow Americans."

The same day, Rubio told USA TODAY that he wants any Hurricane Ian relief bills to be targeted only at disaster funding. He said he would not vote for legislation that goes beyond that.

"What I won't support is things that are not emergency relief. What we're going to ask for Florida is what we supported for every other state in the country that's been affected by – by natural disasters, and that is emergency relief designed to be spent immediately to help the people affected now," Rubio said on ABC's "This Week."

Scott and Rubio also reached out to fellow legislators for disaster assistance for their state. Their letter took a more serious tone than the Gaetz tweet.

"Hurricane Ian will be remembered and studied as one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States. Communities across Florida have been completely destroyed, and lives have been forever changed," the senators wrote.

"A robust and timely federal response, including through supplemental programs and funding, will be required to ensure that sufficient resources are provided to rebuild critical infrastructure and public services capacity, and to assist our fellow Floridians in rebuilding their lives," the letter said.

Rebekah Jones, who is running as a Democrat against Gaetz, issued her own statement, criticizing her opponent for his vote against the continuing resolution.

"Gaetz treats every crisis like it's a sport," Jones said.

"When you're working in disaster response, you don't ask what party someone is registered with. We don't ask who someone voted for in previous elections, and we don't tailor our efforts to benefit one group of people over another," Jones said. " Congress doesn't have to be a circus. Congress should be run like an emergency operations center, where partisanship serves only as an unnecessary and destructive barrier to our jobs."

Hurricane Ian came ashore near Sanibel Island and devastated huge swaths of lower and central Florida as it made its way across the state. It then entered the Atlantic and made its way back to South Carolina where it made landfall again near Myrtle Beach.

On Monday, the storm was still threatening to cause severe flooding as far north as Virginia, and at least 68 people had been confirmed dead in its aftermath. Those include 61 in Florida, four in North Carolina and three in Cuba.

The White House has declared 13 counties in Florida as major disaster areas and tens of thousands of state residents impacted by Hurricane Ian can apply for financial assistance.

The declaration authorizes FEMA to help people in affected counties pay for temporary housing and home repairs, offer low-interest loans to cover uninsured property losses, and fund other federal programs to assist individuals and business owners recover from one of the nation's most significant storms.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Gaetz voted against bill containing Hurricane Ian disaster recovery