Disaster Politics

By Erin Drushel
Erin Drushel
Erin Drushel
The last thing anyone needs to worry about following a natural disaster is whether or not your federal government will come through to help you rebuild your life.

Last Monday, Moore, Oklahoma experienced a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado which left 24 dead, more than 370 injured and left thousands of homes and a school completely flattened. It’s hard to imagine a more inappropriate time to bicker over funding for disaster relief. Yet immediately following the tornado the seeds of argument were being sown.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma somehow managed to keep holding the party line on requiring budget cuts as offsets when providing disaster assistance within the United States. Although he did call the issue inappropriate in the immediate wake of the storm, he still managed to confirm his stance.

Sen. Coburn was one of a number of Republican Senators who voted against providing aid following Hurricane Sandy, calling it a “slush fund” rather than targeted assistance.

Other fellow Republicans from out-of-state were quick to dismiss the need for offsets in the wake of the destruction and loss of life: “With disasters and people in critical condition, I can’t insist on offsets. We’ve got to help these people.” – House Appropriations Committee Chairman, Rep. Hal Rogers (R- Kentucky).

In 2012, following Hurricane Sandy where part of New Jersey was wiped out, Republican Governor Chris Christie’s number one concern was the safety and future of all his constituents, no matter the cost. It wasn’t a question of offsets to ensure the public purse could handle it. He even had to fight fellow Republicans to stop delaying the vote on aid to New Jersey. To some that may sound fiscally irresponsible, but to those who were trying to recover it was a strong voice in the dark.

There’s no question in my mind that Governor Christie got it right. When your people are hurting, you do anything you can to help them.

Now – to be fair to Sen. Coburn – his ideology regarding budget offsets is the same across the board no matter what state requires disaster assistance – including his home state. It is no doubt a difficult job to stay on message while worrying about your constituents’ welfare. But at what point does saving money become more important than helping those in need? Battles over costs and offsets will only delay much-needed assistance.

At a time like this where political labels don’t matter, it’s depressing to see highlighted – once again – the divide in the Republican Party. It’s unfathomable that they can’t even agree on providing unhindered aid to their fellow Americans in times of great need. This is a time for ideology to be thrown out the window. This is not a time for Democrat vs. Republican or Republican vs. Republican…this should only be about people helping people. Although there is a price tag to helping your fellow countrymen, it’s hard to imagine that that matters when your neighbour’s whole world has been swept away.

It’s not always feasible to help others, but that can’t stop you from helping people in their most desperate hour. Doing the right thing will not always be popular or fiscally responsible but it can never be treated as inconvenient.

– Erin Drushel

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