As damage assessments from Hurricane Irene continue to pile up –estimates are in the billions– the government’s emergency fund is running out of money, and a debate is rumbling over how to pay for assistance to those who need it.
To have enough cash for today’s emergencies, FEMA’s director Craig Fugate (FEW-gate) has put a stop to spending on some of yesterday’s disasters.
That means projects that are still in the planning stages, but individual assistance programs are unaffected, along with any project that had already been approved. But some repair and restoration projects resulting from the earlier storms may have to be postponed to pay for the immediate needs resulting from Irene.
That worries people in places like Joplin, MO, where an F-5 tornado decimated much of the town, and both Missouri senators are urging the White House to make sure FEMA funds keep flowing into their state.
FEMA’s role in a disaster is multilayered. It provides immediate assistance, helping victims pay for shelter and food and medical needs. Later on, it pays to rebuild schools, bridges and water treatment plants. Currently, FEMA has about a billion dollars on hand, but so far this year the U-S has been hit with 10 storms and natural disasters that cost at least a billion dollars each. One Republican leader (Eric Cantor) insists that any additional money for emergency relief would have to be taken out of other government programs.
Ya mean, like starting with salaries and benefits for members of Congress and their staffs? That’s an entitlement program worth cutting back on. Let’s get ’em! Who’s with me?! Grab the pitchforks, saddle up the horses. Tonight we ride!
Best as I can tell, we’ve got four ways to approach this:
1) There’s the Ron Paul approach: If people wanna replace that buckled and washed away road, they can pay to fix it. No nanny state.
2) The Eric Cantor approach: Pay for disaster assistance by cutting veterans’ benefits, Medicaid, Medicare, schools… anything but letting the Bush Billionaire Bonus Program expire. Like former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said, never let a crisis go to waste to make an ideological point!
3) The Michele Bachmann approach: Pray for divine intervention and let God sort it out.
4) The Rick Perry approach: Pay for damages with federal government money, then pretend you didn’t take it, then make a speech trashing Big Gub’mint.
Another possibility: Sent the elected officials to some of the devastated towns that are completely cut off because the power is down and the roads are washed out, and let them argue about it there. We can just airlift them into the village square. They get no running water, no electricity –that infrastructure’s damaged– and no place to stay –the hotel is washed out– and no hospitality offerings from the locals (not that they’d want to offer it). Let them debate in the decimated outdoors. For a nice backdrop, we can have someone’s house float by on the flooded downtown street while they’re shouting at each other. Then we can take bets on whether they’ll come up with a solution before the rescue crews arrive. Elected officials would solve problems a lot faster if they live more like the people who elected them.
Seriously, there’s a pretty big gap between saying the federal government shouldn’t pay for any disaster relief (Ron Paul) and saying that the government should be selective in what it covers. Should we have sympathy for someone who loses a vacation home on North Carolina’s Outer Banks? If someone builds there, they should be prepared to replace their house every 20 to 30 years, and don’t expect to get insurance or relief from the citizens of the United States.
However, almost every place in the U-S is susceptible to some form of natural disaster: Hurricane, tornado, earthquake, forest fire, ice storm, etc. And how often does Rutland, VT, get hit by a hurricane? Either the U-S government needs to be prepared to step in and assist in unusual circumstances, or it needs to regulate the insurance industry and require that property insurance policies contain no exclusions.
But if you really want to divert spending, then you have to change priorities –like we choose to rebuild Vermont instead of rebuilding Iraq. Or we mothball an aircraft carrier while we rebuild the Outer Banks. Or let’s cut by half, the salaries of all members of Congress. Step up, politicians, and be patriotic, don’t just volunteer OTHERS to sacrifice. Or maybe we start by freezing all federal funding going to Virginia, then send the Virginia governor a bill for all emergency aid spent in Virgina, and let Mr. Cantor’s constituents find out what a smaller federal government looks and feels like.
Bottom line here is that people only want money spent when its spent on them. Look at Missouri’s senators imploring the White House to make sure FEMA funds keep flowing into their state. But can we take some of that money and divert it to Vermont, where an immediate need needs addressing? Hell no, I don’t live in Vermont. Apparently, it’s only socialism and government interference when it’s someone else’s problem. It’s Nimby in reverse.
Or we could do it the way health insurance companies handle certain patients. Maybe as a country we’ll reluctantly decide that Vermont has just gotten too expensive and just drop their coverage.