John Avlon Independent Nation

01.02.13

House Republicans Cave to Sandy Aid Pressure

Apparently drywall safety and a war memorial 96 years in the works are more urgent than getting billions of dollars in aid to Hurricane Sandy victims. John Avlon on the GOP’s new low.

It was a congressional slap in the face to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

More than two months after hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in the tristate area were destroyed or damaged by Hurricane Sandy, Republicans in the House of Representatives intentionally killed the $60 billion bill passed by the Senate by refusing to bring it to a vote on New Year’s Day. 

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New York Republican Peter King told CNN that the GOP ‘turned its back’ on his constituents, and suggested he might leave the party.

Right-wing activist groups like Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, and Heritage Action have all pressured congressional Republicans to vote against the bill.

Yes, the final hours of the 112th Congress were crowded with the chaos of avoiding the fiscal cliff, a vote that Speaker Boehner pushed despite the opposition of a majority of conservatives in his conference. Nonetheless, there were plenty of opportunities. 

As a reality check, here is a list of items Speaker Boehner did decide to bring for a vote on New Year’s Day before Congress fled for the night/year, provoking well-deserved outcries from New York Republicans like Pete King and Michael Grimm. These are the items that are apparently more urgent than Hurricane Sandy relief, excluding multiple post-office renamings.

• Drywall safety
• Frank Buckles WWI Memorial
• Redesignate Neil A. Armstrong Flight Research
  Center and Hugh L. Dryden Test Range
• Conveyance of certain property in Kotzebue, AK

None of these items exactly screams urgency. The World War I memorial has waited 96 years, and drywall safety seems like the definition of optional. Paying tribute to Neil Armstrong is always welcome but could have waited until the next Congress or for that matter been passed earlier without much objection. And as far as the “Conveyance of certain property in Kotzebue, AK”—after multiple readings, I don’t have a clue what it means, and I’m willing to guess that the vast majority of congressman who voted for it don’t either, although I’m sure it’s important to the 3,201 people who live there.  

Read it and weep. This is what our dysfunctional divided Congress took time on New Year’s Day to vote on while deciding to tell the hundreds of thousands of people who are still digging out and rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy to suck it up—you’re on your own. It is not compassionate, it is not wise, and it reflects a completely inverted sense of priorities.  

But while Republicans treat the tristate area like an ATM machine for their campaigns, they don’t have a lot of constituents in the area, hence the callous lack of urgency. If the hurricane had affected Texas, you can be sure of a very different tone. And while it’s true that absurd pieces of pork were initially proposed for the Senate bill, including money for fisheries in Alaska, that’s no reason to kill the bill.  

If Congress can’t agree on the no-brainer of hurricane-relief funds, how can we rationally expect they will find the political will to deal with immigration reform or high-capacity ammunition clips, let alone entitlement reform or tax reform. The private sector and individual citizens have done their part, raising more than $300 million for Hurricane Sandy relief, but that is insufficient, as I argued on CNN last week.

This is a new low reflecting the stranglehold on common sense that activist groups have on congressional votes, particularly in the polarized and ideological House GOP.  As Congressman Pete King said in a righteous fury, “It is disgraceful. It even makes it worse being a Republican.”