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Can We Relax About Sandy Relief for a Second?



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Let’s stipulate that Hurricane Sandy materially hurt a lot of people in New York and New Jersey (yours truly, included) and that it is precisely the kind of disaster that warrants federal intervention and financial relief. And let’s further stipulate that the House adjourning without a vote on the Senate-passed, $60-billion Sandy relief package was bad optics for the Republicans. (Not least because that’s the way it’s being portrayed. Who’s to say why the argument isn’t, “there’s no excuse for the Senate not to pass the House bill and deliver the $27 billion in Sandy relief that everyone agrees on?”).

Even with these stipulations, the cataclysmic tone struck by northeastern Republicans like Peter King (who is implying he could leave the party) and Chris Christie (who has called a live-streamed presser at 2PM that will no doubt be fun to watch), strikes me as unnecessary. Consider that FEMA already has about $7.8 billion in an emergency relief fund, plus another couple billion it can tap in an emergency-emergency relief fund, and that by the end of November it had already disbursed $664 million of that, mostly to New York. Consider also that nearly $250 million was raised by charities (plus the attendees of my ten-year high school reunion) in the first month after the storm, and that another $50 million or so was raised by the 12-12-12 concert and distributed to more than 160 organizations. This is nothing to sneeze at.

So why all the shouting? Let’s be clear: the Sandy “relief” bill is really a Sandy “recovery” bill. It’s about the size and shape of the second wave of Sandy spending, which can and should be much more deliberate than the the first wave. The first wave of Sandy spending is already happening. Is it happening quickly or efficiently enough? There is no such thing as quickly or efficiently enough for the people of Staten Island or Seaside Heights, but it’s nevertheless safe to assume that if you think private charities and emergency responders aren’t allocating efficiently, you’re probably going to be disappointed by Congress, too. In fact, according to an analysis released by Senators Coburn and McCain, “64 percent of the $60.4 billion in ‘emergency’ spending in this legislation will not be spent for nearly two years.”

And that’s just fine with me. The tri-state area won’t recover from Sandy overnight, so there’s little reason for northeastern Republicans to set their hair on fire because House GOP leadership refused to pass Sandy relief overnight. The 113th Congress convenes soon enough. Until then there’s a bit of time to think about some of the stuff Senate Democrats thought should be included in the bill, stuff like:

•$2 million to repair damage to the roofs of museums in Washington, D.C., while many in Hurricane Sandy’s path still have no roof over their own heads.

•$150 million for fisheries as far away from the storm’s path as Alaska.

•$125 million for the Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection program, which helps restore watersheds damaged by wildfires and drought.

•$20 million for a nationwide Water Resources Priorities Study.

•$15 million for NASA facilities, though NASA itself has called its damage from the hurricane ‘minimal.’

•$50 million in subsidies for tree planting on private properties.

•$336 million for taxpayer-supported AMTRAK without any detailed plan for how the money will be spent.

•$5.3 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers – more than the Corps’ annual budget – with no statement of priorities about how to spend the money.

•$12.9 billion for future disaster mitigation activities and studies, without identifying a single way to pay for it.

What on this list can’t Peter King wait for? What on this list can’t Chris Christie’s constituents do without for another couple of days?



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