Disastrous Politics

There was a sense in early January that the tough words of Congressman Pete King and Gov. Chris Christie would shame their Republican colleagues into approving the full $51 billion recovery package for the Sandy-ravaged metropolitan area. The congressman and the governor could not have been more blunt in their assessment of Speaker John Boehner and those in his caucus who regard New York and New Jersey as moral and fiscal cesspools undeserving of federal assistance.

Some House members, however, have no shame. The House was headed into an expected marathon debate on a pair of Sandy-related bills as The Observer was going to press on Jan. 15, and it was clear that many representatives were prepared to vote against both bills—one for $17 billion to cover basic needs and the other a $33 billion package of long-term recovery aid. Tea party types and other ideologues have been hiding behind lies and half-truths, condemning large parts of the spending bill as mere waste and political pork.

It’s not hard to figure out what’s going on here. In the world view of some extremists in the House, New York and New Jersey are just too urban, too nonwhite, too non-Christian, too gay, too immigrant-friendly, too quick to pull the trigger on common-sense gun control. And that’s why they did their best to block federal dollars from helping the region recover and rebuild.

Some Republicans sought to undermine the aid package by demanding federal spending cuts to offset the expense of helping New York and New Jersey. The Club for Growth, a powerful antitax group, complained that the Sandy bill is “stuffed with pork.” That may come as news to homeowners and businesses who simply want a helping hand so that they can contribute to the economic growth that the club so reveres.

The bill’s opponents sought to load up the legislation with amendments designed to cut federal transit subsidies and farm subsidies and other unrelated expenses. Whether or not these programs deserve continued federal support is quite beside the point. Opponents knew the amendments would be unacceptable in the Senate and that they would further stall relief efforts.

It’s time to take names. Congressmen like Mick Mulvaney and Jeff Duncan of South Carolina, Tom McClintock of California and Cynthia Lummis of Wyoming were among those who sought to block recovery assistance by demanding spending cuts elsewhere—demands that have never been imposed on other federal disaster packages.

Someday, the good people of Wyoming, California and South Carolina will require federal emergency help for natural disasters. Luckily for them, elected officials in New York and New Jersey surely will set aside today’s bitterness in the name of decency, because they never have played games with federal emergency aid and never will .

They’re better than that.