Mother Nature is likely neither a Democrat nor a Republican, but she sure is forcing politicians to show their true colors.
Natural disasters tend to do that sort of thing.
Who will be the person pitching in to aid homeless neighbors, and who will loot the store with the window busted out?
As Congress returns to work/bickering after the Labor Day break, keep your ears open for who might have learned something from the FEMA funding squabble the nation just witnessed.
GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor has staked out the territory between uncompromising and mean-spirited, exactly what the nation does not need right now.
When the bill for Hurricane Irene’s wrath on the East Coast began to be calculated, Cantor stuck to his script: No more funding for federal disaster relief without cuts elsewhere in the budget.
At least he gets points for consistency, as this was his position in the spring when funding for FEMA in 2012 was being hammered out.
This position is also entirely consistent with the tea party view of reality.
To the true believers of the right, government is the source of our economic malaise, with its “job killing” taxes and regulations and spending and social programs. This beast must be starved, and natural disasters apparently present another opportunity to do so.
The tea party message is appealingly simple, full of fighting conviction and certitude, until something like a hurricane hits, or a tornado capable of gutting an entire city, like the one that hit Joplin, Mo., killing 159 people.
Or flooding occurs, so rapid that it’s able to change a river’s course, wiping out homes and valuable farmland.
Or wildfires that are capable of rapidly laying waste to vast tracts of land.
Devastation like that causes people to turn to government for the help they believe is due to them.
But Cantor says no.
Not until he gets his way with fiscal policy. Even though the emergency funding needed would have no observable effect on long-term deficits, Cantor will deny it unless his agenda is catered to.
Barely a few days after Cantor made his statement, Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri revealed a damning new report on private contractor spending in Afghanistan and Iraq. Fraud and waste amounted to $31 billion to $60 billion in the last 10 years, at least an estimated $3 for every $10 in taxpayer money spent on private contractors in those wars.
Think some savings could have been found there? Maybe enough to help rebuild roads and bridges in devastated U.S. communities?
Let’s not forget, a lot of America is suffering now. Natural disasters don’t differentiate by political party.
Many states have been hit hard, all over the country, complicating the already tenuous financial situations for many families. The last thing flooded-out, burned-out, tornado-ravaged, desperate, unemployed taxpayers want to hear is congressional bickering.
And yet here we have a major party leader in Congress threatening to hijack humanitarian aid for Americans for the sake of political strategy. It’s awfully similar to when the GOP held up raising the debt ceiling, putting the nation in considerable economic peril, to gain a political advantage, to make points against a flailing president.
Even if you buy into the premises of the tea party movement, ask yourself: What kind of person does that?
In times of great disaster and grief, most people’s first instinct is to do the right thing. They help a neighbor in need. They donate time and money, even if it means tapping their own rainy day funds to help others.
We need political leaders who see in catastrophe not an opportunity to extract concessions, but a way to bring out what is best in all Americans: our willingness to contribute to the common good.