In recent years, disaster relief aid has become the subject of intense and sometimes ugly debate on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers whose constituents have lost their homes and their loved ones in floods or tornadoes or wildfires are forced to plead with budget hawks for funds to pay for desperately needed emergency services, including searches and rescues.
Colorado’s nine-member congressional delegation last week all signed a letter sent to President Obama asking him to make emergency funds available to Colorado by declaring the expanding Front Range flood zone a federal disaster.
Already, national media outlet Think Progress is pointing out that Colorado’s four Republican congressmen in January joined members who voted against disaster relief money for Hurricane Sandy victims.
The debate over Sandy funding was rancorous. Representative Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, underlined the way many of the members voting against Sandy funding had either requested funding for their own states in the past or would in the future. He suggested they didn’t belong in the Republican or Democratic caucuses. He said they should form a “hypocritical caucus.”
As Bloomberg News reported at the time, hawks opposed to the funding were bolstered by small-government think tanks, like the Club for Growth, which argued that any kind of spending is bad spending if it adds to government debt.
“For years and years, the difference between Democrats and Republicans has been that Democrats are driving the car off the cliff at 80 miles per hour and the Republicans are only doing it at 65 and calling that an improvement,” the outlet quoted Club Spokesman Barney Keller. Most members of Congress, he continued, “simply don’t believe that government should be limited, and that goes for the Republican Party too.”
Gardner, who represents Colorado’s heavily flooded Fourth District, voted against Sandy funding after his efforts to secure $20 million flood mitigation aid for Colorado as part of the Sandy funding package were voted down by his Republican colleagues.
“It’s a disaster relief act,” Gardner told reporters. He then referenced the 2012 wildfires that ravaged Colorado. “New Yorkers weren’t the only ones who had their homes burned down in a devastating natural disaster. We had over 600 in Colorado alone.”
Colorado’s Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet strongly supported Gardner’s efforts. He suggested then that it was penny wise and pound foolish not to help Colorado guard against future flooding, which might eventually cost taxpayers billions.
In the end, Bennet voted for the Sandy relief, but he voiced his frustration in a release to constituents.
“It’s frustrating when you hear people talk about how they’re fiscally responsible while they are creating a set of conditions that are inevitably going to cost more money and much more pain,” he said. “If we don’t deal with these problems now, we could be facing as much as five times the cost to deal with future flooding and damage.”
There is no official estimate yet how much it will cost to repair damage done by the historic floods that have torn up roads and overturned buildings across the northern Front Range the last two weeks.
[ Image of Cory Gardner via YouTube. ]