John Avlon Independent Nation

01.05.13

Callous Conservatives: Gulf State Republicans’ Sandy Shame

The Republican congressmen who use New York as a campaign ATM, but turn a blind eye to suffering here must be held accountable, writes John Avlon.

Slap a scarlet “S” on these callous conservatives. Sixty-seven members of Congress–all Republicans—voted against even $9 billion of Hurricane Sandy relief yesterday.

Remember their names, and hold them accountable.

Twelve of the scarlet 67 voted for Hurricane Katrina relief—which passed ten days after that devastating Gulf Coast storm—but against Hurricane Sandy relief 69 days after its landfall in the Northeast. Their names: Trent Franks (AZ), Ed Royce (CA), Sam Graves (MO), Steve Pearce (NM), Steve Chabot (OH), Jimmy Duncan (TN), Kenny Marchant (TX), Randy Neugebauer (TX), Mac Thornberry (TX), Bob Goodlatte (VA), Tom Petri (WI), and Paul Ryan (WI). 

These congressmen are content to use New York City and the tri-state area as an ATM when they are looking for campaign funds, yet they willfully turn a blind eye when hundreds of thousands of homes and small businesses are damaged or destroyed and more than 100 Americans are dead.

Note the name of last year’s vice presidential nominee and potential 2016 presidential candidate Paul Ryan on this list. Donors would do well to ask him about this vote. The Texas delegation likewise asked for federal funds when hurricanes have devastated their state, yet are ignoring suffering in the Northeast. But then conservatives often become liberal when an issue affects them personally. Just two years ago, Missouri Congressman Sam Graves begged President Obama for an emergency declaration to deal with flooding in his district—now he is afflicted with convenient amnesia.

The full list of the 67 “nos” is tilted toward the conservative Gulf Coast states and the congressmen—many elected after Katrina—whose constituents often feel the brunt of natural disasters.

Congressman Paul Broun—who when Obama was elected in 2008 called the president-elect a “Marxist” and compared him to Hitler, who denounced evolution as a “lie from the pit of hell” despite serving on the Science Committee—had no trouble asking for FEMA funds when his district was flooded in 2009. And Alabama’s Mo Brooks was equally eager for federal funds when tornados devastated his district in 2011.

The larger point, of course, is that massive disaster relief is a role for the federal government. There are times when we are 50 individual states and times when we need to unite and act as one country. Hurricane relief should be a no-brainer.  

But Club for Growth and other conservative activist groups decided to make Hurricane Sandy relief a litmus test for their annual scorecards, and conservative congressmen started running scared.

The presence of pork in the original Senate Hurricane Sandy relief bill was a predictable disgrace. For example, in an essay on CNN, I called out the presence of pork like $150 million for Alaskan Fisheries and $41 million to military bases including Guantanamo Bay. But that pork was rightfully stripped from the ultimate Senate and House bill. Angry conservative activists never bothered to update their talking points and so they argued from ignorance.

Moreover, the bill that Congress passed on Friday was just $9 billion of the total $60 billion Sandy relief bill (an amount far less than the Governors’ estimate of $80 billion in damage). We’ll have to wait until at least January 15th for a vote on the remaining $51 billion.

Club for Growth and other conservative activist groups decided to make Hurricane Sandy relief a litmus test for their annual scorecards, and conservative congressmen started running scared.

The 67 congressman who voted against relief would have almost certainly voted for it if the impact was felt in their district. But if those 67 were to visit Staten Island or the Jersey Shore or the Rockaways today and see the citizens and volunteers still struggling to dig their way out of the devastation, they might have a different opinion. These folks need relief. And the region needs to increase its resilience to avoid future costs.

Hypocrisy is the unforgiveable sin in politics—and it abounds among ideologues in congress. But the absence of compassion matters as well. Because if the threat of professional partisan activist groups is enough to make you overlook the struggle and suffering of your fellow American citizens, maybe it’s time to look in the mirror and consider a field of work other than public service.