This week the U.S. Congress finally began to pass legislation to enable the U.S. Government to provide its citizens with financial relief from storm Sandy, which ravaged New Jersey, New York and other states. It took them over two months to do this and they did it only after the Republican leadership in the House were villified by members of their own party from those states. They passed legislation that would provide an additional funding of $9.7 billion to FEMA, the Federal Agency that provides U.S. disaster relief. FEMA is still heavily in debt to the U.S. Treasury from Hurricane Katrina, and purportedly would have been without funds in another week.
The National Insurance Flood Program (NFIP) is run through FEMA. Most people do not buy flood insurance, and even for those who do, the limits available ($250,000) are too low to cover anything near a total loss for many properties in the Northeastern part of the U.S.. For many property owners NFIP is the only choice for flood coverage, as homeowners insurance excludes it. FEMA will also provide emergency financial assistance (up to $31,900) if such assistance or funds are not available from other sources.
Not to have funded this $9.7 billion would have again put into question the full, faith and credit of the United States. The fact that the U.S. could lose its world currency status, does not seem to bother members in Congress, any more than Americans without adequate shelter in winter after a natural disaster.
There were 67 members of Congress, all Republicans, who voted against even this stripped down Bill (H.R. 41). This is not to taint all Republicans, because a majority of them voted for this delayed emergency legislation. The original thought process was that the original Senate Bill had $400 million of earmarks in a 50 Billion dollar Bill. While earmarks ( sometimes “pork”) are common in large appropriations it is curious why they were in a Bill that all Democrats would have voted for without them. The House to its credit, never had earmarks in their original Bill and some House Republicans rightly questioned why there needed to be earmarks in a Sandy relief Bill. The problem in the Senate is that you need 60 Senators to get anything done, so you need some Republican Senators to come along. Thus the Senate Bill provide additional disaster relief from other storms to their constituencies, as well as funds unrelated disasters at all. When the newly reelected House Majority Leader decided under pressure to bring the stripped down HR 41 to a vote, there were no earmarks. The Senate, also under pressure, did not add earmarks back. So why did 67 Republican House members still oppose this legislation. Some said it was pork; but there was no pork in this Bill. Others said that the NFIP, which was recently revised and renewed in July, 2012, was broken. Some of these same representatives sought disaster funds for their districts notwithstanding the continued insolvency of the NFIP. Some just don’t believe the government should be in the flood insurance business. Perhaps a reasonable point, but citizens had already paid for their insurance contract from the U.S. government. Did they intend that the U.S. government should breach its contract and default? Most were probably pandering to a local, anti-North, or anti-Northeast constituency, knowing that the Bill would be passed. One was a candidate for Vice-President of the U.S. in the last election.
A number of the 67 are not freshman congresspeople. They are leaders of the Republican party who are Committee Chairs of powerful House Committees. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, Vice-President candidate and Chair of the Budget Committee; Jeb Hensarling of Texas, Chair of the Financial Services committee (he was a member of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, oversees NFIP and wants to revisit Dodd-Frank and to privatize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). Bob Goodlatte of Virginia, who will be reviewing immigration legislation and gun control, is Chair of Judiciary. Ed Royce of California is Chair of Foreign Relations. The U.S. currency obviously did not cross his mind when he voted against this Bill.
The States with the largest percentage of their delegations that voted against this Bill were: Montana (only one Congressman represents Montana); Kansas; South Carolina; Tennessee; and Wisconsin. To a lesser extent, but still significant were: Georgia, Kentucky; North Carolina, Oklahoma; and Texas. The interesting fact is that New Jersey, Connecticut and New York are the 1st, 3rd and 9th top donor states (the states that pay more in revenue than they receive in Federal benefit). None of the top 10 donor state delegations had more than a nominal Republican member oppose this legislation. A number of the deficit states are among those with more than a minority who opposed this Bill, and a number of them are disaster prone states. It is nice to be fiscally conservative with other people’s money.
The U.S. cannot sustain its massive deficit. The tax code and means of taxation should be revised. Nonetheless, the patina of fiscal conservatism exacted upon Americans by this small group of Congresspeople needs to be rethought. If not, perhaps instead of the “no tax pledge” the delegations from the donor states and the administration laser funding away from districts of these inconsiderate districts in the interest fiscal restraint.