Even before it ignored the Hurricane Sandy Aid Bill and headed home fore the December holidays, the 112th Congress was the most ineffective session in history.
After scrapping a vote on the larger $60 billion Sandy aid package earlier this month, House Speaker John Boehner was excoriated into holding a vote in this new session of Congress just days later by representatives from his own party, namely Chris Christie (R-NJ) and Peter King (R-NY).
But it looks like we shouldn’t expect too much more from the 113th session. Disaster relief, normally a cut-and-dried issue, became yet another game of political football.
Political polarization in Washington has made it impossible for our representatives to vote on an issue as seemingly simple as this. Disaster relief normally receives wide bipartisan support and is dealt with, believe it or not, as if time were of the essence.
It has taken Congress nearly three months to approve emergency relief funds for victims of Sandy, a storm that resulted in nearly $50 billion worth of damages, destroyed more than 300,000 homes, caused 125 deaths and left millions without heat or power. People were outraged when it took a whole ten days to provide over $50 billion for victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The House has finally voted on both of the bills needed to provide the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas with flood reimbursement and other aid. That’s right, two bills. They even managed to split the legislation into two parts in the name of it having “too much pork,” according to representatives like Paul Ryan. This “pork” refers to pork barrel legislation, the appropriation of government funds for local projects that primarily benefit a representative’s home district.
On Jan. 4, the $9.7 billion bill cleared both houses to provide funds to the national flood insurance program. On Jan. 15, the additional $50.5 billion was passed by the House as emergency disaster relief. If passed by the Senate next week, this money will help activities like debris cleanup, replenishing stocks at food banks and giving low-interest loans to business and homeowners. Funds will also go toward repairs of public transportation systems.
This “pork” should be dealt with when millions of people are not counting on the representatives they elected just two months ago to hold up their end of the deal. The private sector has already done its part; in the 12.12.12 concert, the Robin Hood Relief Fund raised $35 million in ticket sales alone for Sandy victims. Let’s go for some accountability.
While many agree our spending does need to be matched with cuts, House Republicans should not use an already-neglected natural disaster as leverage. We cannot to reduce the deficit at the expense of innocent victims who have been waiting for months.
If House Republicans or any other groups want to change the way relief aid is allocated and distributed, they should use our democratic process to introduce a bill and vote on it when there is not an emergency situation at hand. Holding up Hurricane Sandy aid is the wrong bargaining tool and sets a bad precedent.
This Sandy aid debate comes directly after the 112th Congress was barely able to soften the hit from going over the fiscal slope. Many are afraid this ordeal only further sheds light on what the 113th session will be like, as the U.S. has rapidly imminent hurdles ahead that will undoubtedly prove ten times more difficult.
If we can’t provide aid to our own citizens in need of help after a natural disaster, how will we ever handle hitting the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling next month and avoiding a government shutdown in March? We face a bumpy, polarized road ahead.