Last Tuesday, Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) created an uproar by removing a $60 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill from the floor for a vote. The move came after Boehner got the votes needed to pass the so-called “fiscal cliff” deal. Fellow Representative Peter King (R-NY) and Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) were outraged. King went so far as to consider leaving the Republican party. Christie called the action “inexcusable.”
Boehner refused to discuss the matter and one of his aides referred all questions to Representative Eric Cantor’s office. Meanwhile, facts have started to slowly trickle out about the supposed “relief” bill.
The National Flood Insurance Program is expected to run out of money this week, funding only 8.6 percent, or 12,000, of an estimated 139,000 claims. While the bill would have allocated another $9 billion dollars to NFIP, it was so laden with pork spending that to simply pass it all without knowing what was in the bill was simply unconscionable (although Congress has been down that road before).
The waste included:
- $499,000,000 for damages from “previous natural disasters”
- $150,000,000 for Alaskan fisheries
- $1,000,000,000 for unspecified food, hurricane and natural disaster “preparations”
- $821,000,000 for nationwide dredging projects
- $50,000,000 for Army Corps of Engineers “investigations,” which promote “environmental sustainability as a guiding principle”
- $336,000,000 for Amtrak related expenses
- $20,000,000 for “interagency planning on coastal ecosystems”
- $8,000,000 for new cars for federal agencies
- $100,000,000 for federal Head Start day care program (while these centers may need repairs, that is a lot of money to spend on a program that has cost taxpayers $160,000,000,000 since its inception in 1965, with nothing positive to show for it. But that’s a subject for another column.)
And the list goes on and on.
The bill would have automatically authorized any project of the Army Corps of Engineers currently under study in the North Atlantic Division that could “reduce flooding and storm damage risks.” There would be no vetting process, cost benefit analysis or scrutiny of these projects, where the cost share is split 90 percent federal and 10 percent local. Additionally, statutory limitations on the growth of spending for these projects is waived, leaving spending to grow unchecked.
These pet projects have no place in a serious effort to provide relief to residents in the north-east who have been left without shelter in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. Darrell Issa (R-CA) claims that Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are responsible for the wasteful spending included in the bill. In the days leading up to Christmas, they tacked an additional $33 billion on to the Senate’s original $27 billion bill before they passed it and left, leaving Republicans with two choices: pass it, and be complicit yet again in massive waste and abuse of hard-earned taxpayer dollars; or don’t pass it, and be derided by the media and the left for the suffering of residents in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. After the beating Republicans received during the fiscal cliff fiasco, it seems unlikely many would have rushed to attach their names to relief spending that provided little actual relief.
Since the bill was not voted on and a new Congress was sworn in, the old bill no longer exists and lawmakers will have to start from scratch. The House has passed a $9 billion spending bill for the NFIP’s immediate use. On January 15, they will vote on the remaining $51 billion.
In the meantime, it would behoove elected officials to ensure that the second bill will only fund relief efforts. Americans, generous in nature and first to respond when disaster strikes, have helped NBC and The American Red Cross raise $23 million dollars and $117 million dollars, respectively. Other agencies have raised money as well. This money should be accounted for when lawmakers determine what else needs to be done. While improvements to the power grid and advanced equipment for NOAA might be helpful in responding to future storms, those issues should be tackled separately and not used as leverage to bring home the bacon.
These are peoples’ lives with which they are playing.
- Lynn Jenkins, Kansas Congresswoman, Opposes Sandy Pork Spending Despite Record (huffingtonpost.com)
- Rep. Darrell Issa: ‘NY Senators Packed Sandy Relief Bill with Pork, Then Dared Us Not to Vote on It’ (foxnewsinsider.com)
- More: Senate sends $9.7 billion Sandy relief bill to Obama for his signature – @thehill (thehill.com)
- Pork-laden relief bill par for course (utsandiego.com)
- NY Republicans reject Issa claim Sandy bill laden with ‘pork’ (thehill.com)