After Ike Dike Funding Cut, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber Breaks With Freedom Caucus in Budget Battle – Gilmer Mirror

By Matthew Choi, Texas Tribune

“After cutting Ike Dike funding, U.S. Rep. Randy Weber breaks with Freedom Caucus in budget fight” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs — and engages with — Texans about public policy, politics and government and state-level issues.

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WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, a member of the far-right House Freedom Caucus who has aggressively pushed to rein in federal spending, said he was concerned his colleagues might go too far.

The staunchly conservative Friendswood Republican holds a distinction that separates him from many other members of the caucus: He is the biggest requester of appropriations from Congress this year at a time when many of his conservative colleagues have turned their backs on directing money to local projects in their districts.

His requests include $100 million for the Ike Dike Project, an ambitious hurricane protection project on the Gulf Coast, as well as providing protection for some of the nation’s largest energy and commercial facilities. As Republicans battle over how to cut federal spending amid an impending government shutdown, Weber fears that some of the projects Republicans have voted to champion most loudly could be threatened.

“Absolutely, that is the case,” Weber said in a recent interview.

Earlier this year, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and the White House brokered an agreement that most federal spending would not increase in the next fiscal year. Weber voted against McCarthy’s deal, saying it doesn’t go far enough to curb spending. The deal still has passed, and now Congress has to decide what gets funded and what doesn’t within limits. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Kay Granger, a Republican from Fort Worth, said actual spending would be less than the agreed-upon cap.

But the House Freedom Caucus is not stopping work, refusing to pass any spending measure unless Congress includes a set of its policy priorities — which could put the federal government on lockdown. Weber is waiting to see what’s in the funding legislation before deciding how he will vote, according to his spokesman, though he remains concerned about spending and calls for overriding federal agencies.

There is no uniform agreement on where the cuts will come from, and some bipartisan priorities in Texas have already taken a hit. Among them was the $100 million requested by Weber for the Ike Dike Project, a widely supported project aimed at protecting a large swath of the Gulf Coast, including the Port of Houston. The region is a vital hub for the nation’s energy industry and a huge economic engine for Texas. But it is also vulnerable to hurricanes. Congress approved $31 billion for the project last year, although those funds have not yet been fully allocated.

“We have seven ports, more than any other member of Congress. “We are the No. 1 energy-producing district in the country,” said Weber, whose district includes Port Arthur and Lake Jackson. “It’s a big expense. $30 billion and counting. But if you add up all the damage from the hurricane, all the FEMA money that was spent and the federal money that had to be sent to disaster recovery, $30 billion would cover the costs of one catastrophic hurricane on the Texas Gulf Coast.

In total, Weber has requested $686 million in earmarks this year — more than any other House member by a wide margin, according to a Roll Call analysis. The second highest request came from Representative Jack Bergman, Republican of Michigan, at $466 million. Weber ended up securing $144.3 million from his initial request in committee, making him the No. 2 recipient in Congress, according to a Roll Call analysis. Of this amount, $100 million will be allocated to deepening the Sabine-Neches Waterway in a project already approved by Congress in 2014.

Weber acknowledges that lavish spending in individual member districts has been anathema to House Republicans. In 2011, then-Speaker John Boehner banned earmarks. But Weber and several other Republicans are now defending the practice, which Democrats reintroduced in 2021. Earmarks proponents say that if Congress is not specific in the legislation distributing federal funds, the money will have to pass through the bureaucracy of federal agencies, leading to delays . It opened the door to mismanagement.

“Let’s return the power of the purse to the people. We represent the people. And who knows the 14th District better than Randy Weber,” he said.

Weber is not alone in the fight for Ike Dyke. The project is supported by many federal and local officials from both parties – and business leaders in the Houston area.

“This investment is in our national economic interest,” Democratic U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher of Houston said during a 2021 hearing on infrastructure funding. “The Houston area, home to more than 7 million people, is also home to the Port of Houston, the busiest port in the country by gross tonnage and home to one of, if not the largest concentration of refining and petrochemical complexes in the U.S. world.”

If Gulf Coast communities need to find alternative financing for some of their projects, that could slow development, said Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick, whose district includes the Sabine-Neches Waterway, one of the nation’s busiest shipping canals. As production costs rise due to inflation, “the longer a project is postponed, the more expensive it becomes.”

“This work will have to stop or slow significantly until another funding cycle,” Brannick said. “And it would be terrible for us because we need this improved increase as quickly as we can get it.”

Weber stresses that he will not stop looking for funding for his projects, especially the Ike Dam. He expressed optimism that funding could come from appropriations allocated to federal agencies related to the project.

“Although this outcome was initially disappointing, the fight to secure funding for this project does not even come close to stopping here,” Weber said in an op-ed in the Galveston Daily News.


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This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/09/11/texas-ike-dike-freedom-caucus-budget-fight/.

The Texas Tribune is a member-supported, nonpartisan newsroom that informs and engages Texas citizens on the politics and policies of the state. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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