By Bill Boyarsky
Republican spending knows no limits when it comes to going into debt for failed and useless wars. But it’s another story when it comes to providing federal assistance for victims of Hurricane Irene or other catastrophes we may face in the months ahead.
Nothing has exposed the Republican determination to put people last more than the reaction of the House Republicans’ No. 2 leader, Eric Cantor, to federal aid for those hit by one of the nation’s most costly disasters. He wants those governors, mayors and others in charge of disaster relief to beg for help.
“This is a time, an appropriate instance, where there is a federal government role,” Cantor said. “We will find the money if there is a need for additional monies. But these monies are not unlimited, and what we’ve always said is we offset that which has been already funded.”
Obviously, he means existing programs, ranging from medical aid to unemployment assistance. So for every dollar the storm victims get, subtract money for assistance to victims of a recession caused by his party. If Cantor has his way, as he usually does, each dollar spent to clean up and rebuild parts of Vermont, New York, North Carolina and other hard-hit states will have to be balanced by cuts to programs targeting the needy.
What can you expect from a party featuring a presidential candidate, Michele Bachmann, who said the hurricane and the recent East Coast earthquake were God’s warning against deficit spending? Claiming to quote the Lord, Bachmann preached, “He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here? The American people are roaring right now. ... They know government is on a morbid obesity diet and we’ve got to rein in the spending.’ ” Just joking, she said later.
The cost of Hurricane Irene, insurance industry sources told The New York Times, is between $7 billion and $10 billion. The total bill for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, according to CostofWar.com, is now $1.24 trillion. If you add Pakistan operations, the wars will cost Americans between $3.2 trillion and $4 trillion, including medical care and disability for current and future war veterans, according to the Eisenhower Research Project based at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies. If the wars continue, they are on track to require at least $450 billion more in Pentagon spending by 2020. Without these wars, there would be plenty of money to clean up after Hurricane Irene.
Democrats share some of the blame. When President George W. Bush led the country into war, too many of them went along. They either believed the administration’s lies or feared being tagged as soft in their next election campaigns. But the Bush administration was the driver, the sole provider of information and the author of the war strategy. With the exception of anti-war Rep. Ron Paul and a few others, Republicans were supporters. They did not question the justification of the war. They did not consider it would wipe out the surplus created by the Clinton administration and thrust the country into deep debt.
This history is well known. The question now is how candidates will address these problems in the months ahead.
On the disaster issue, we can assume that common sense and decency will not prevail with congressional Republicans, and they will fight Obama’s efforts to provide disaster aid and to adequately fund the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The other big question is what the presidential candidates will do about the Afghanistan war and future conflicts. Obama has begun an agonizingly slow withdrawal of American troops, but it’s unclear how long American trainers and special forces will remain, not to mention the private “contract” fighting personnel. At least he resisted the military’s demand for an even slower withdrawal.
Neither Mitt Romney nor Gov. Rick Perry, leading in the polling for the Republican presidential nomination, has shown any willingness to do that. Romney told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, “In Afghanistan, the president has chosen to disregard the counsel of the generals on the ground. ... That puts the successes of our soldiers and our mission at greatest risk.”
Perry also spoke to the VFW meeting, held in San Antonio. I saw the whole speech, thanks to the Texas Tribune website. He is, by the way, a surprisingly uncharismatic speaker, somewhat flat except when he talked about the troops who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. He looked toward heaven at that point, his voice becoming funereal. Insincerity radiated from him.
He said we should “respect our allies” but “we cannot concede the moral authority of our nation to multilateral debating societies.” On Afghanistan, he said in another speech, “I think the president made a huge mistake by signaling to the enemy that we’re going to leave at a particular time. That’s bad public policy but more importantly it puts our kids in harm’s way.”
The post-hurricane period and the Perry and Romney speeches provided a close look at what the country faces if the Republicans win the presidency and both houses of Congress next year. House Speaker John Boehner and Cantor will revel in saying no to the needy, no matter how sudden or severe the disasters that strike them. Romney will defer to the generals no matter how much it costs in lives and dollars. So will Perry. Bachman will wait for the word from God.
What a bunch. The question is: Will the American people fall for their line? That’s something to worry about.
AP / John Bazemore
Two men use a boat to explore a street flooded by Hurricane Irene in Manteo, N.C.