TRUCKEE, Calif. - Americans have always reached out to those in need, and the devastation suffered by victims of Hurricane Sandy requires the federal government's assistance to make the repairs required by storm damage. Disasters that overwhelm local and state resources have always been shared by the nation and that's as it should be.
But the very real suffering of Hurricane victims who require immediate relief shouldn't be used as an excuse for rushing billions of dollars of unrelated, non-emergency spending through Congress.
Americans have become so numb to trillion-dollar bailouts, deficits and platinum coins that we've lost sight of how much $50 billion really is. In real-life dollars, it averages about $450 for every household in the nation. That's the bill for this single round of "emergency relief" for an average family that's struggling to keep itself financially afloat. They have every right to expect that this money is really going for emergency relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
Most of it isn't.
Two billion dollars is for highway repairs anywhere in the country covered by any disaster declaration in 2011, 2012 or yet to occur in the next ten years - including up to $20 million each for American Samoa, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands - that aren't even in the same ocean as Hurricane Sandy.
Sixteen billion dollars (about $150 for your family) goes to quintuple the Community Development Block Grant Program. That's a political slush fund that pays for such projects as a "Doggie Day Care Center" in Ohio and a "Day at the Circus" for Nyack, New York. The program's legal authorization expired in 1994, and since then, the Office of Management and Budget has repeatedly branded it "ineffective," the bureaucracy's polite term for unaccountable. Last year, Congress appropriated $3.4 billion for this program; the Hurricane relief bill knocks it up to nearly $20 billion, with no requirement that it be spent in the Hurricane zone.
Another $6 billion is earmarked for future public transit programs entirely unrelated to any storm damage.
There's $111 million for weather satellites. How can a hurricane damage an orbiting weather satellite? Good question. We might need more or better weather satellites or data, but that can hardly be called "emergency repairs and relief."
According to the Congressional Budget Office, more than 90 percent of the "emergency spending" won't even be undertaken this year. That's not an emergency.
By contrast, when an earthquake completely demolished the Santa Monica Freeway in 1994, authorities waived cumbersome regulations and rebuilt the entire freeway from the foundation up in just 66 days. That's a far cry from adding brand new transportation systems years in the future.
Congress has an appropriations process that is designed to give proper scrutiny to long-term funding requests and to evaluate those projects in relation to competing demands and taxpayers' ability to pay for them. That's particularly important when the federal government is already borrowing 38-cents for every dollar it consumes and when a new round of tax hikes is about to crush small businesses.
Bear in mind that this $50 billion (adding about 5 percent to the entire annual discretionary budget of the federal government) is on top of billions of dollars already spent by federal, state and local governments, insurance companies and non-government organizations like the Red Cross, not to mention $9.7 billion in federal funds approved last week to prop up storm losses to the National Flood Insurance Program (a questionable subsidy that forces taxpayers who choose not to live in flood plains to pay for the flood insurance of those who do).
The politicians pushing these projects may think they're demonstrating compassion and generosity by packing as much non-emergency, non-hurricane spending into the bill as they can. What they're really doing is making a pork-filled mockery of a tragedy, and making storm victims of every family in America who will bear the $450 average cost through their future taxes.
It brings new meaning to Louis XV's infamous words, "After us, the flood."
Congressman Tom McClintock represents California's 4th District, which comprises portions of Nevada (including Truckee), Placer, El Dorado, Amador, Calaveras, Alpine, Tuolumne and Mariposa counties, and the eastern Madera and eastern Fresno counties.