No Sandy aid for Alaska
“STABBED IN THE BACK” roared the giant front-page headline in Thursday’s New York Daily News. Illustrating that theme was a photoshopped image of the Statue of Liberty with a large knife stuck in her back — and a mug shot of the U.S. House speaker under this smaller headline: “N.Y. pols blast Sandy betrayer Boehner.”
Lest you assume “blast” overstates the case, review what Republican Congressman Peter King of Long Island said after Speaker John Boehner blocked a House vote on the $60.4 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill that the Senate passed last week:
“I’m saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace.”
Lowcountry residents who recall Hurricane Hugo’s 1989 wrath can well understand the frustration felt by fellow Americans waiting for federal assistance months after taking a hard hit from a natural disaster.
Far too many folks in New York and New Jersey, where Sandy’s combined death toll was more than 90, are still suffering that official neglect.
And Rep. Boehner’s decision to not bring the bill up Tuesday night absolutely eliminated any chance of its passage by the 112th Congress, which was replaced Thursday with the swearing in of the 113th. Thus, any additional federal Sandy aid must be passed by both chambers anew.
But while members of Congress have an obligation to help those still reeling from the devastation inflicted by that “superstorm” in late October, they also have a duty to scrutinize large appropriations of taxpayer money.
And when legislation branded as “Sandy relief” includes $150 million in federal assistance for fisheries as far away as Alaska, it flunks not just geography but the truth-in-labeling test.
Fortunately, the advance of earmark reform in recent years has made it easier to spot when an “emergency” funding bill is being transformed into a Christmas tree.
Unfortunately, though, Washington’s free-spending habits live on. So assorted goodies were added to the Sandy bill in the Senate.
Rep. Boehner was re-elected speaker by the new House on Thursday, despite some conservative disapproval of the way he handled the “fiscal cliff” showdown with President Obama. The speaker was among 85 Republicans who gave in on that front Tuesday night and voted to pass a late Senate deal that was long on tax hikes and short on spending cuts.
However, on the Senate’s Sandy bill, Rep. Boehner stood his frugal ground. He refused to go along with many of its non-Sandy costs, including: millions each for the Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Smithsonian, Kennedy Space Center, Amtrak and “community development” programs.
Yet the speaker’s opposition to the Sandy relief package drew condemnation from some Republicans as well as virtually all Democrats. In response, he offered assurances Wednesday that the new Congress will take up the Sandy aid issue today.
That seemed to soothe Rep. King, who said Wednesday that he had a “very positive meeting” with the speaker and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
Chris Christie, New Jersey’s Republican governor, wasn’t so easily placated about what he called the “toxic internal politics” of the GOP House. After meeting with Reps. Boehner and Cantor on Wednesday, Gov. Christie said: “There is no reason for me at the moment to believe anything they tell me.”
The new Senate — and the new House — should not delay in crafting a sufficient “Sandy relief” bill.
Just don’t undermine its chances of passage by loading it down with pork.