The emergency dividing Republicans

After a fierce response to House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) decision to delay consideration of relief legislation for victims of Hurricane Sandy, the House went ahead and voted Friday on the bill to raise the borrowing authority of the National Flood Insurance Program so it could continue paying the 140,000 claims it has received but has yet to complete. What the vote showed, despite its easy passage 354-67, was just how emergencies are not only no longer bipartisan, but how they are dividing conservatives.

What has long been a tradition of deficit spending for disasters is being called into question amid the ongoing political battle over government spending as the two parties move away from the fiscal-cliff fight but prepare and position for the coming debt-ceiling-increase debate. The "no" votes on the $9.7 billion Sandy relief bill passed Friday came from Republicans including House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who agreed with the Club for Growth and other conservatives arguing even the NFIP could not be bailed out when the U.S. government is saddling so much debt. But another $51 billion Sandy relief bill is scheduled for consideration when Congress returns on Jan. 15, and the debate of whether and how these bills can be "offset" will return.

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Regional support trumped the math, of course, with conservative Rep. Scott Garrett of New Jersey sponsoring the flood insurance bill despite his past opposition to a Hurricane Katrina-related relief bill. Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), a leading fiscal hawk, also supported the bill but conceded "emergency bills like this should not come to the floor without offsets to pay for it, or structural reforms to ensure that taxpayer bailouts are never needed again," but he added that "less than 24 hours into a new Congress there is simply not time for this."

The money is hard to come by, but these days natural disasters are not. The last few years have shown record-setting federal declarations of disasters and on disaster relief spending from hurricanes and tropical storms, droughts, floods, wildfires, earthquakes and tornadoes.

As Congress reviews the numbers once more before the debt-ceiling debate, where will "emergencies" fit in?


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