Kevin Brady is Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and thus at the center of the tax reform battle, but right now he is at the center of Hurricane Harvey as his 8th Congressional District gets slammed by the storm. He joined me this morning from the District:
HH: I’m just astounded by these pictures and the coverage. Mattress Mack is a great Houstonian, though. I just want to salute him. He’s opening up his stores for people to come in and shelter there, because there are so many refugees. I’m joined now by Congressman Kevin Brady. He’s chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, which means he’s at the center of the storm of tax reform. But he’s also literally at the center of Hurricane Harvey. His 8th Congressional District is in Harris County. Congressman, good morning, thank you for finding time for us. How goes it in Harris County?
KB: Well, good morning, Hugh. Look, this has just been unprecedented, and it’s not over, yet. Harvey stalled over the Texas coast. It’s bringing moisture back from the Gulf, and all the parts of our region have seen 15-30 inches. They predict we could see another up to 25 inches over the next couple of days. So they expect catastrophic flooding through This is, I’ve been through Rita and Ike in the Tax Day floods. I’ve never seen anything like this.
HH: Now Congressman, let me start at the very personal level. Is your family safe? Is your staff safe? What do you hear from them?
KB: Well, they are. We’re fortunate to be north of Houston a little, and so our home is dry, and family safe, and our staff is working away coordinating with local state and federal officials on all this. So you know, I’m blessed, but boy, all around us, our streets, our neighborhoods in the Houston region, it’s, boy, this is as devastating as you can get.
HH: Now it’s two days away from peak flooding. The Buffalo Bayou is going to be up to 71 feet, 12 feet over its previous high mark. I don’t think there’s actually any way to categorize this. When it’s a 500 year event, that means it happens every 500 years. The country’s only 240 years old. I read the University of Georgia guy saying it’s the worst flooding event in American history.
KB: Well, that’s what I read as well. All I know is the conditions are worsening. And many of our rivers in our district, and creeks, won’t crest until today or this evening, and the water just doesn’t stop. We’ve got a brief respite right now as I look out our window. We received three to six inches overnight. But it’s going to come back and to begin to hit us in bands soon.
HH: Have you talked to the Speaker, yet, because you’re going to have to move some relief legislation fairly quickly.
KB: So I expect to talk to the Speaker later today, was supposed to be with him tomorrow for tax reform discussion. We’ll do that by phone. And so yeah, we’ll be in contact with him. He’s already reached out and is supporting our efforts for recovery here.
HH: Now Congressman Brady, it’s interesting. Your area of expertise is tax code, and we’ve talked about it a lot, and we’ll talk a lot about it in the fall, both on radio and television. But one of the things when people talk about tax simplification, my accountant buddies always say you can’t get rid of the casualty loss. You’re never going to be at a postcard, because the casualty loss is what you need. Now I can’t imagine anything to illustrate that more, all of these homes and businesses and lives have been impacted in a way that the tax code will have to take account of.
KB: Well, I think the point will be we’ll always, with the postcard, which dramatically simplifies the tax code, you’ll always have a worksheet that deals with what is income. And there’ll be things like combat pay, Social Security income, some of those that have traditionally been part of how America is compassionate about what they count for income. So we’ll always have some type of worksheet to arrive at the postcard, and so we’ll, right now, that’s sort of the last thing from my mind for the next few days or week as we work through this flood, but we’ll be having those discussions.
HH: I was going to ask you about that. I was talking to Ed Gillespie earlier today. I think it changes his campaign for governor. I think it changes the way I cover the news. Everything changes. Does it delay Congress? It’s so massive, and so much matters that happens in Texas politically. You’re the chairman of Ways and Means. Is it going to delay the tax effort?
KB: I don’t believe it will. Look, look, I know we’ve not all been in Washington, but the White House, the Senate and the House have continued its work. Our tax teams are meeting daily, sometimes more often than that. And we’re having discussions on all the key issues. So again, you know, I haven’t seen anything, yet, that knocks us off schedule. I’m hopeful as devastating as this flooding continues to be, that it won’t, either.
HH: Now talk to me a little bit more about the local conditions, because one of the things that strikes people is these highways are completely covered with water. And that’s, I’ve just never anything like it. I remember a region or Area 9 in New Orleans being completely underwater. I remember the Superdome being, you know, cut off. But I’ve never seen anything like this.
KB: You know, I’ve, I’m glad you say that, because I haven’t, either. And to exact that point, as I was visiting with many of our county judges last night, just to sort of review the weekend and how we get prepared ahead into the week, they were saying the exact same thing. The major interstates, highways, connectors, are out. And so that’s creating some major problems for fuel to get to gas stations so people who are using these generators and need these, it’s getting tougher. Obviously, we’re now going to see as these rivers crest, and creeks crest today, tomorrow and Wednesday, that worsen going forward. It’s also made it tough for search and rescue teams and high water rescue teams to operate as well, and they are, the Coast Guard, you know, has made the case it’s really hard at this point to conduct their rescues with the storm conditions continuing as they are. So we’ve got some major challenges, plus there will be an impact, I think, as we’ve seen a number of our refineries close down. There’s going to be an impact, I think nationwide, on the economy, especially on the price of gasoline going forward. So the effects just continue to ripple out.
HH: I was reading from the New York Times before I began to talk with you, Chairman Brady, about the Houston hospital complex, world-renowned hospital complex, just wonderful. It’s cut off.
HH: A lot of it, they can’t get to it.
KB: It is Texas Medical Center, which is remarkable has in effect become an island. And I know the medical institutions began evacuating early this weekend. But there is simply, I think if I recall, about 160,000 patients in that medical center on a daily basis. Some of them, of course, drive in rather than in-patient care full time. But nonetheless, it is shocking to see again just the devastation from this flooding, and it’s getting worse. That’s, I think, what our elected officials locally and statewide are dealing with today.
HH: You know, I had lunch just by coincidence with the founder of Decision Insight on Friday, an old friend of mine. They do school district boundaries when schools close, or they have to expand, and they do the city of Houston. I said you’d better go home and get the emergency thing going, because I think some of these schools will be destroyed.
KB: Well, they well could be, and right now, thankfully, schools starting Friday have kept the kids and teachers away. Some have already made the cancellation for the entire week. Going forward, ours locally for the next couple of days, it may extend. But here’s the point. Some places in this region have been hit harder than others. But there’s no point on the compass that’s been spared. And so it is just, again, unprecedented going forward.
HH: We’ll check in with you later in the week, Chairman Brady. Know we’re raising money for Save The Children to use in Texas, 888-810-8275. I found after Katrina some of the most effective stuff was when one church picked another church. So someone in Cleveland finds a parish in Harris County, and they just help rebuild, because it’s got to be done institution to institution partnering.
KB: It is, and you know, you mentioned Mattress Mack, who is just an icon in the Houston region, and a wonderful person opening his store. There are so much of that occurring right now, and will going forward as well.
HH: Yeah, I’ve just got to close by asking you, I’m not surprised, but your first responders have been incredible. They’re just diving in.
KB: Oh, gosh, it is, and they’re exhausted, and they just keep coming back, and they’re augmented by volunteers bringing in their boats, their high water rescue vehicles. It’s really been, it’s just miraculous to see how the region, the communities have rallied.
HH: It is Houston’s Dunkirk. I appreciate you joining me this morning, Mr. Chairman. We’ll talk later in the week and get another update. Stay safe, and I hope your district stays safe. I know Harris County is right in the center of Round two, right?
KB: Yes, sir.
HH: It’s coming right at you. I just, we’ll pray for you. Thank you, Congressman.
End of interview.