Editorial: Congress adds to pain of Sandy victims

Long Beach resident Laurise Frey, who is wheelchair-bound, Long Beach resident Laurise Frey, who is wheelchair-bound, makes her way through the debris on her block of Michigan Street in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 18, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Some members of Congress apparently don't quite get the concepts "disaster" and "emergency." If they did, they'd realize that slow-walking consideration of federal aid for the people slammed by superstorm Sandy is loathsome behavior.

The latest obstacle from House Republicans before they consent to $50 billion in desperately needed aid is requiring $17 billion in cuts to other federal spending. Just now, and just when it comes to providing assistance to the hated Northeast, do they pull this trick.

So here's a primer for them: When the spending on the table is to provide critical help for people suffering the aftermath of a natural disaster -- "a calamitous event occurring suddenly and causing great loss of life, damage or hardship," according to the dictionary -- it's just not the time to debate offsets. This is an emergency -- "a sudden, urgent occurrence requiring immediate action."

The federal government does need to bring its spending more in line with the tax revenue it collects. Right now the two are horribly out of synch, resulting in recent annual deficits north of $1 trillion. But House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) must act like the national leader he is supposed to be and not let this offset baloney further delay or derail the Sandy relief vote scheduled for tomorrow.

Congress already blew the immediate part when Boehner decided not to have the House vote on the aid package before the last Congress closed up shop Jan. 1. It was a callous, nakedly partisan move.

Boehner and other Republicans had just lost the "fiscal cliff" showdown with President Barack Obama. They'd been forced to accept higher tax rates for the most affluent without winning any spending cuts. So to spare his bloodied colleagues an immediate vote on $60 billion in additional spending, Boehner pushed the Sandy vote off to later in 2013. It was an outrageous call. Republicans' political wounds shouldn't have been salved at the expense of storm-battered families and businesses.

Congress did approve $9.7 billion Jan. 4 to replenish the National Flood Insurance Program. But House approval of the rest, split into a $17-billion appropriation and a $33-billion addition by amendment, has been thrown into doubt by other amendments sponsored by Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), requiring offsets for the $17 billion.

One calls for a 1.63 percent, across-the-board cut in discretionary spending to offset the aid. Another would end transit subsidies for federal employees, eliminate cash subsidies to farmers and prohibit new obligations for the Troubled Asset Relief Program, created in 2008 to rescue the financial industry. Congress should, of course, debate the wisdom of spending for those purposes. But it shouldn't hold emergency aid for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut hostage.

Sandy damaged about 100,000 homes on Long Island, and destroyed 2,000. We've been waiting more than two months for the federal government to come through with the money it alone has the deep pockets to provide. That's longer than any other region of the country hit by disaster was made to wait. Stop this partisan nonsense -- the politest word we can use -- while people are suffering.

You also may be interested in: