NEWS + OPINION
When hurricane Andrew made landfall on August 24, 1992, Congress and President Bush 41 responded within 31 days with a federal aid package. When hurricane Gustav made landfall on September 1st, 2008, and then hurricane Ike hit 12 days later, Congress and President Bush 43 responded in 17 days with a federal aid package. When hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005, Congress and President Bush 43 responded with an initial 62.3 billion dollar aid package in 10 days.
Hurricane Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on October 29, 2012, 66 days ago. In our state alone 346,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. Nearly 7 million New Jerseyans were without power, some for up to 14 days. Nearly 600 state roads were closed, 127 shelters housed over 7,000 evacuated citizens, all regional and mass transit and Hudson River crossings were closed, all New Jersey schools were closed – some for weeks. Tens of thousands of businesses were damaged or destroyed with many still closed. Our Jersey shore was devastated with the loss of homes, public buildings and iconic symbols of New Jersey culture and economic vitality destroyed.
- New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
The above quotation consists of Governor Chris Christie’s opening statements at a news conference after the federal aid package for hurricane Sandy was withheld from a vote on the floor because of House leadership. Being barred from a vote, the bill died. The second paragraph highlights the extent of the destruction in New Jersey from Sandy – a tragedy never before experienced in the area’s recent history. As cruel as it may appear, Boehner may have had a rational approach to this bill. In addition to what Governor Christie described in his speech, the bill would have also funded various other projects of questionable necessity:
- $28 billion for future “disaster-mitigation” projects.
- $100 million for the repair of all 265 Head Start centers around the country.
- $8 million (+) to buy cars and equipment for the Homeland Security and Justice departments.
- $150 million for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to dole out to fisheries in Alaska.
- $2 million for the Smithsonian Institution to repair museum roofs in Washington, D.C.
- $207 million for the VA Manhattan Medical Center.
- $41 million to fix up eight military bases along the storm’s path, including Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
- $4 million for repairs at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- $3.3 million for the Plum Island Animal Disease Center of New York.
- $1.1 million to repair national cemeteries.
This information was taken from an Examiner article entitled Boehner kills pork-filled Sandy relief bill.
The opponents of this legislation are protesting its legitimacy as an “emergency relief bill” because of the so-called “pork” it is riddled with. House Republicans are vehemently against these spending loopholes, especially right after they passed fiscal cliff legislation. Starting off the year with an additional $60 billion is daunting, not to mention incredibly wasteful if the money does not go towards true emergency-related tasks. Plummeting the nation into a deeper fiscal abyss during this frantic time is nonsensical. Unfortunately, from the look of it, most of the spending listed by the Examiner article fits into that category.
There are some which could be argued for, though. Personally, I think “disaster mitigation projects” are a key part of emergency relief (to a certain degree). While $28 billion seems excessive, I don’t think it should disregarded as inappropriate. Another contradictory detail of the bill is its lack of urgency; the Congressional Budget Office contests that only one-third of the money would be spent over the next 21 months.
Everything beyond the basics – which emergency funds call for – should be drafted into a separate bill so that it may pass through the typical legislative process. Otherwise, much of the “emergency spending” seems a bit preposterous. How can it be needed urgently if it is going to be spent almost two years down the road? Once again, it seems nonsensical.
The shady contradictions of the bill do not lessen the desperate need for Sandy relief in NJ & NY. Shortly after the House leadership let the original bill die, Chris Christie and other key political figures ridiculed their decision with fervent ferocity. Thankfully some funding was voted for and it did pass the House legislature after the aforementioned figures displayed their harsh discontent publicly. Below is a video of Governor Christie’s speech, which I quoted earlier (click here to see video WITH Q&A session).
Because of Governor Christie’s severity and other national spotlight, Boehner agreed to letting the House vote on the bill if it were split in two. The first was voted upon immediately, which included over $9 billion in aid that allows FEMA to temporarily increase the National Flood Insurance program’s borrowing limit. This was the most urgent portion of the relief bill so both sides were mostly satisfied with its passage.
The second portion of the bill includes the other $51 billion worth of spending, which has been promised to be voted for one week from today (January 15).
Much of the spending found in this package is questionable and some is even outright unnecessary. It is of monumental importance for Congress to pass a bill which weeds out the wasteful components in order to focus on what NJ & NY residents truly need in this time of sorrow. I don’t know every detail of the bill myself, but allowing anything more than the third of the bill which is enacted within the first 21 months should be pondered with serious consideration. Congress has a crucial job to prevent special interests from seeping into bills which usually have comparatively unrivaled spending.
Thank goodness $9 billion was able to get through so soon after the initial bill was blocked. The people of New Jersey and New York needed that assistance weeks ago.