The unprecedented number of natural disasters in 2011 have left already struggling states with $36 billion in damages. Hearing calls for aid, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) responded by bringing a $7 billion relief package before the Senate.
His Republicans colleagues, however, responded by obstructing it. Last night, GOP senators successfully blocked Reid from bringing up the bill for consideration. In need of 60 votes, Reid got 53 votes in favor and 33 votes against. Fourteen senators did not vote, but every single senator who voted against relief was Republican.
Even GOP senators representing states that suffered disaster damage — North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr, Texas Sen. John Cornyn, Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions, and Mississippi Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker — voted against aid for their constituents. Taking a page from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA), the Senate GOP refused because the relief was not offset with cuts elsewhere:
— SEN. RAND PAUL (KY): “I plan to insist my fellow senators take a long, hard look at where the funding comes from,” Paul said yesterday before the vote. “Will it be more borrowing on the backs of our children and grandchildren, or will it be from the coffers of our numerous nation-building programs overseas? America’s priorities should come first.”
— SEN. JOHN THUNE (SD): “These are different times. We have got to figure out how to pay for these things,” Thune told reporters last week.
— SEN. JEFF SESSIONS (AL): As ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, Sessions “believes the Senate should not provide the spending before getting expert advice on the precise need.” “We haven’t carefully examined every penny of it,” he added. Noting that he represents “a state that has suffered” from tornado damage, he still asked “how much more do we need” in aid?
Disaster relief — much like funding to rebuild Iraq — is traditionally not subject to offsets. But only Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins seemed to take note of that fact. She, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-MN), Sen. Dan Coats (R-IN), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), and Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) were the only five to break with their party and vote in favor of the disaster aid.
They, however, will find support from numerous GOP governors who seek aid without offsets. Cantor’s home state Gov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) rebuked this kind of zero sum thinking. GOP favorite Gov. Chris Christie (NJ) characteristically did not mince words: “Our people are suffering now, and they need support now. And they [Congress].. can figure out budget cuts later.” For now, Christie — and the people’s needs — go unheeded.