Hostages

This year has been a tough one for the US. We’ve seen tornadoes plow through population centers with devastating results. Snow falls that set records both for their totals and for the cost of cleaning up after them gave rise to floods that cause a great deal of damage. Large swathes of the Southwest, already hit hard by drought, saw huge and uncontrolled fires scorch tens of thousands of acres. Now, large areas of the East Coast have been hammered by Hurricane Irene. These disasters effect not just the areas that were immediately hit, but also the nation at large. So the federal government, largely in the form of FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has stepped in to help those who have, in many cases, lost everything. The task of helping out has been huge, as has the cost, and therein lies the problem. With so many major event to respond to, FEMA has seen it’s emergency funds drain away quickly, and those funds are not infinite. The most recent figures give FEMA somewhere around $800 million left in its budget. That’s not pocket change, but when you look at the damage Irene has left in it’s wake, it’s an almost pitiful amount, because even current rough estimates run into the $3-4 billion range. Given the fact that many of these estimates are based only on what has been directly observed, and the fact that in many spots, officials haven’t even been able to get in and find out just how bad things really are, it is unlikely that those figures are going to go down.

There has been an effort to get FEMA supplemental funds, and that story is what I write about. The funding itself is nearly insignificant given the damage we already know of, roughly $1 billion. If the small size of the increase in funding weren’t enough (and given that this year still has four months yet to go, part of which is the peak for the hurricane season) that small amount finds itself tied up in Washington’s current fixation of “balanced” budgets. You see, the current increase comes from the House, where the “Tea Party” has written language into the bill demanding that, in order to fund this increase in emergency funding, offsetting cuts must be made in other federal programs first. Which programs, they are unwilling to commit themselves to for fear (I think) of facing a backlash from the victims of these natural disasters.

That their feet should be held firmly to the fire for even suggesting such an insane act goes without saying. Conservatives love to liken the federal budget to a family budget, but I doubt they’ll use that particular simile in this case. After all, how many families would worry about where to find the money to pay for a sick child before deciding to seek treatment? There are some things you pay for, then figure out how to find the money, that’s why we call them “emergencies”.

Holding help to people who have suffered through a natural disaster hostage to ideological ideals is just plain wrong, and the “Tea Party”, plus it’s allies in Congress, should be ashamed of themselves for doing so. This is a nation that looks out for it’s own, or it should be. By demanding cuts before any funds go out to help people who are often without even the basics of life, these people show themselves to be not only heartless, but blind to anything but their own agenda. Hopefully people will remember these shameful actions come 2012.

(addendum: as of tonight, estimates are that Hurricane Irene has caused over $12 billion in damages, lifting it into the ranks of the most destructive storms in history. Thanks for watching our backs on the economic front, Eric Cantor, nice to know money and ideology come before people.)

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