Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Opposing Disaster Aid Is Common in Congress

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Opposing Disaster Aid Is Common in Congress

Article excerpt

The Senate is expected to approve a $50.6 billion aid package on Monday for states devastated by superstorm Sandy, capping off a political process that dragged on for nearly three months and saw Governor Christie criticizing his own party.

New Jersey and New York, the states hit hardest by Sandy, mostly prevailed in the process, winning billions of dollars to harden infrastructure and improve shore areas against future storms. They beat back conservative lawmakers who said the aid would add to the nation's deficit.

In the fight to get Sandy aid passed despite opposition in the Republican-controlled House, Christie and others argued that politics hasn't historically played a role in previous disaster bills. And he publicly blasted fellow Republicans for opposing the measure on grounds that it would add to the nation's debt.

"Disaster relief was something that you didn't play games with," Christie said at a news conference the day after House Speaker John Boehner postponed a vote to provide $60 billion in storm aid. "But not in this current atmosphere, everything is the subject of one- upmanship, everything is a possibility, a potential piece of bait for the political game."

But Christie himself used his political skills -- publicly and privately -- to secure a vote on the package and relied on relationships he built during frequent fundraising trips in the campaign season.

And an analysis of congressional voting records shows repeated opposition to similar aid bills in the past.

Nearly half the 38 bills to fund special disaster aid passed by Congress since Hurricane Hugo devastated the East Coast in 1989 received more than 100 opposition votes in the House. Only six measures passed with unanimous support.

For Sandy, 160 members of the House voted against the Sandy aid package despite hailing from states that had received similar disaster aid over nearly the last 25 years, an analysis by The Record shows.

Rep. Darrell Issa, for instance, voted against the $50 billion aid package, saying provisions in the Sandy measure were unrelated to emergency aid. The "legislation was hijacked," the California Republican said in a statement released after the vote.

But similar concerns didn't stop him from voting for aid for his own state that had been tucked into two massive Defense Department appropriations measures. Aid dedicated to California wildfire relief represented 0.12 percent of the total spending in a 2004 bill and 1.4 percent of another vote four years later, according to an analysis conducted by the research arm of Congress.

And Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party leader and onetime presidential contender, voted against the Sandy aid package but agreed to appropriate millions of dollars to help Midwest states, including her own, recover after flooding in 2008.

For Sandy, Boehner ended up splitting the $60 billion aid bill approved by the Senate last month into two parts. The House approved a $9.7 billion provision to bail out the national flood insurance program, which was overwhelmed by Sandy-related claims.

The $50.6 billion measure up for a vote in the Senate on Monday was approved by the House two weeks ago. It provides billions to harden the state against future storms, as well as funding for grants for affected businesses and residents.

Most federal disaster aid is provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the president declares a disaster and without any action necessary by Congress. So-called supplemental appropriation measures are only necessary to help pay for relief after disasters -- like Hurricane Katrina or the Oklahoma City bombing -- that would overwhelm existing federal resources.

Bachmann and Issa weren't alone in opposing aid for other states while voting for relief after natural disasters strike home.

Rep. Scott Garrett, R-Wantage, opposed aid after Hurricane Katrina but sponsored the insurance bailout and ended up voting for the $50 billion Sandy aid package after voting for several cuts to the bill. …

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