Disaster funding politics — Why Americans hate Congress

Disaster funding politics — Why Americans hate Congress
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Let’s get straight to the point about disaster funding pending in Congress: Both parties are playing cynical politics and both parties should be ashamed. There isn’t a whole lot to say about this sorry state of affairs, other than this singular piece of legislation epitomizes why Americans hate politics.

The U.S. Senate passed by a margin of 85-8 legislation funding $19.1 billion for on-going disaster relief around the nation. Virtually every piece of disaster-related funding legislation always contains provisions disliked by one party or the other. Congressmen and senators do this for a couple of reasons. First, because it is disaster funding, it is likely to get approved and thus provides an easy vehicle to get a pet project approved on the coattails of disaster funding. 

Second, congressmen and senators attach pet projects to disaster aid that they know the opposition party will balk at, giving the sponsoring members the opportunity to berate the objectors for holding up disaster funding. 

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This isn’t unique to disaster funding. But disaster funding is the favorite vehicle to pull these shenanigans because, after all, who can oppose funding that helps victims of disasters? The truth is, both parties, Republicans and Democrats alike, pull this stunt whenever they think they can get political mileage out of this tried-and-true legislative trick. 

And so, it is with the current $19.1 billion in disaster aid.

The Senate version went through several iterations before finally passing on an 85-8 vote. And then it hit the House of Representatives, where Republicans thought they could attack Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP group calls on Republican senators to stand up to McConnell on election security in new ads The Hill's Morning Report - Trump hews to NRA on guns and eyes lower taxes Hobbled NRA shows strength with Trump MORE by demanding a roll call vote.

Last Tuesday, Republican Kentucky Representative Thomas MassieThomas Harold MassieAirports already have plenty of infrastructure funding Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE objected to Democrats’ plan to approve the disaster funding with a voice vote while the House was out of session — circumstances that allow a single member to stall an entire bill. The bill was first introduced in the House back in January. It’s now June, and the funding still hasn’t been approved. 

The tactic was designed to force a roll call vote on the pending legislation in order to get each member on record approving or disapproving the measure. While that’s fair in-and-of itself, it also means Republicans are now in the unenviable position of holding up months old funding for purely partisan reasons, and giving Democrats ammunition to accuse Republicans of holding disaster aid from victims.

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Of course, the Democrats pounced. Senate Minority Leader Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSaagar Enjeti: Biden's latest blunder; Krystal Ball: Did Schumer blow our chance to beat McConnell? Johnson eyes Irish border in Brexit negotiations Lewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' MORE (D-N.Y.) immediately took to Twitter duly noting that Republicans were now blocking disaster funding. Pelosi likewise referred to the Republicans as heartless. The feigned outrage was in full gear.

Republicans can rightfully point to the fact the Speaker could hold a roll call vote and pass the legislation. Any member opposed to the legislation could hide behind a majority vote passing the funding, and vote their conscience knowing the bill will pass over their objections.

But the Speaker won’t make that move as long as a single Republican objects to a voice vote.

And the cycle continues unabated. 

Of all the legislation considered by Congress, disaster funding should, in most circumstances, be non-controversial, bipartisan, and easily passed by both parties. But the grandstanding by both parties over disaster relief strains state and local resources, exacerbates already difficult planning by state and local governments — and, requires FEMA and DHS to engage in fiscal gymnastics to pay current bills.

Shame on both Republicans and Democrats for playing these games. While the majority of Americans may not pay much attention to the details of disaster funding, when told about these pathetic, amateurish machinations by both parties, it furthers their cynicism about elected officials.

Members of both parties are always looking for the so-called “common ground” where they can work together. Isn’t disaster relief the easiest of those issues? It certainly was when Congress approved funding for the attacks of 9/11. Since then, they have politicized it to the point of absurdity.

Shame on them.

Michael D. Brown is the former under secretary of homeland security and director of FEMA under President George W. Bush. Follow him on Twitter @michaelbrownusa or his podcast, “Michael Brown Unplugged,” wherever you download podcasts.