As New Jersey continues to suffer from extensive damage left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy at the end of October, Rep. Scott Garrett (R-NJ) is poised to veto $60 million in federal aid meant to help his own constituents recover and rebuild.
Sandy’s devastation of the New Jersey shoreline was estimated to cost the state at least $29.4 billion. Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) said the proposed $60.4 million in federal aid would cover the state’s damages. Garrett, however, suggested to CNBC host and fellow New Jersey resident Jim Cramer that he might deny his home state these much-needed funds, claiming he is concerned about “accountability” for “wasteful spending.”
CRAMER: Our state has been hit by a storm that may be worse than Hurricane Andrew. It requires spending. Do you veto that spending on principle?
GARRETT: At this point in time, we just got the president’s proposal as to the 60 some odd billion dollars. The governor said they’re looking for more. [...] I think in those numbers, I think it’s appropriate for Congress to look at them, and to also look for what I was asking for, that we never got with Katrina, and that was some degree of accountability. You remember all the stories about the FEMA trailers, about the credit, debit cards, whatever they were at that time, given out to people across the country, even if they were not in those areas. I think the American public wants to make sure there is a level of accountability going into this sort of thing. But you raise a good point, we’re at $239 billion in deficit, I think in the first couple months of this year and they’re talking about adding $60 billion on top of that.
CRAMER: I’m trying to figure out what kind of spending is good and what kind of spending is bad. [...] But if New Jersey doesn’t get that spending, even if it’s a little bit wasteful for heaven’s sakes, we’re really going to be hurt.
GARRETT: One person’s stimulus is another person’s wasteful spending.
Garrett appears to be siding with his Republican colleagues over his constituents. Republicans, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor (R-VA), have expressed reluctance to provide federal assistance to areas hit by deadly natural disasters in the past few years. When faced with tornadoes that ravaged the Midwest, an earthquake in Virginia, and now Hurricane Sandy, Republicans demanded that relief funds be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.
Garrett also claimed that the government takes money from the private sector, saying, “I have a problem” with the idea that “the government is able to spend this money better than the private sector.” Privatizing disaster relief has been proven to be its own disaster; federal agencies like FEMA, despite Garrett’s maligning, are far more efficient and more able to coordinate resources than private efforts. Hurricane Katrina, which Garrett claims had no accountability for wasteful spending, was actually bungled by a delayed response and lack of resources provided by President George W. Bush’s FEMA.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), who was also on the program, blasted Garrett for using accountability as a “dodge” for acting and declared, “I’m going to make sure the people in New Jersey and New York are not left high and dry. Because it’s a national issue. We are a national community. And when there’s a tragedy, when there’s some kind of event in New Jersey, New York, we all have a responsibility.”
Garrett eventually conceded that he may support the Sandy aid if it had accountability measures built into it.