The Colorado Republicans who voted unanimously this week against superstorm Sandy recovery funding did so in part because their state didn’t get an opportunity to win some of its own disaster relief money.
Their opposition to $50.5 billion in aid to New York, Connecticut and New Jersey prompted Northeast colleagues to label them and other Republicans who’d sought or gained similar money in past the “hypocritical caucus.”
Among the 66 House Republicans who opposed the package on Jan. 15 and a $9.7 billion flood insurance measure on Jan. 4, at least 36 had sought aid after disasters in their states, according to a compilation by ThinkProgress, an arm of the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a Democrat-allied Washington research group.
While the no votes drew the ire of Northeastern lawmakers, the affirmative votes infuriated Republican organizations that are pressing Congress to make deep cuts in federal spending to reduce the deficit. The Senate is set to vote on it next week.
“Every time there’s a natural disaster, Congress follows the same M.O.: they pass a massive bill that isn’t paid for and is loaded with pork with no accountability,” said Barney Keller, a spokesman for Club for Growth, a Republican-leaning Washington advocacy group supporting cutting federal spending and taxes. “That’s exactly what they did this time, and that’s exactly what it looks like they plan on continuing to do.”
The Sandy debate illuminates the hurdles Republicans will face when they push for steep spending cuts in exchange for raising the nation’s $16.4 trillion debt ceiling next month or extending funding for government operations, which expires in March. Advocates for everything from defense programs to farm subsidies to transportation projects will be pressing their local representatives to protect their spending.
“For years and years, the difference between Democrats and Republicans has been that Democrats are driving the car off the cliff at 80 miles per hour and the Republicans are only doing it at 65 and calling that an improvement,” said Keller. The inability of Congress to break its spending habits means most “simply don’t believe that government should be limited, and that goes for the Republican Party too,” he said.
Last summer, Colorado experienced the most expensive and destructive wildfire season in its history when more than 600 homes burned and three people died in the High Park fire in Northeast Colorado and the Waldo Canyon fire on the outskirts of Colorado Springs.
Republican Representative Doug Lamborn joined his state’s delegation last June in asking the Obama administration to provide “urgently needed resources” to help his state combat wildfires, which the administration approved.
The blazes stripped thousands of acres of vegetation, making them susceptible to flooding. Damage assessments estimated state officials show a need for at least $20 million to repair damage to soil and watersheds.
El Paso and Larimer counties in Colorado need to restore hillsides before spring to reduce flooding risks and protect drinking water supplies for hundreds of thousands of residents, said Sallie Clark, the El Paso county commissioner who represents the area burned by the Walso Canyon fire.
Colorado Representative Cory Gardner sponsored an amendment with bipartisan backing from fellow Representatives Jared Polis and Ed Perlmutter, two Democrats, and Republicans Doug Lamborn and Scott Tipton to attach to the Sandy bill, known as the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act. It sought to replenish the Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Watershed Protection Fund, to which the state could apply for aid, said Catherine Martines Mortensen, communications director for Lamborn.
It was rejected along with 75 others by the Republican-led Rules Committee on a party-line vote. Representative Harold Rogers, a Kentucky Republican who leads the Appropriations Committee, said before the amendment was rejected that the aid bill “kept the money specific to the immediate Sandy disaster needs at hand, and no more.”
Gardner “didn’t vote for the bill basically because they wouldn’t allow his amendment to be considered,” said Rachel George, a spokeswoman for Gardner.
“The amendment would have given Colorado an opportunity to compete for desperately needed Emergency Watershed Protection funding through the Department of Agriculture,” Lamborn wrote in a Jan. 15 letter to Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach. “I was very disappointed when the House Rules Committee rejected the amendment without even allowing consideration on the House floor.”
Opposition to the measure also was driven by the defeat of an amendment to finance the disaster relief by cutting 1.63 percent from all discretionary spending. It was defeated after 71 Republicans joined 187 Democrats in opposing it. All four Colorado Republicans supported that proposal.
Lamborn voted against the final $50.5 billion aid package, as well as the flood insurance bill passed by both houses of Congress on Jan. 4. Gardner, Tipton and Representative Mike Coffman, another Republican, voted against the $50.5 billion in Sandy aid after backing the flood insurance measure. Representative Diana DeGette, Polis and Perlmutter, all Democrats from the state, voted for both disaster funding bills.
“Congressman Lamborn ultimately rejected the bill because none of the new spending was paid for through cuts elsewhere in the budget,” said Mortensen in a statement.
The Colorado Republicans weren’t the only House members who drew derision from Northeastern colleagues, who were all lumped together when Representative Frank LoBiondo, a New Jersey Republican, said there should be a “hypocritical caucus” for them to call home.
These members “wanted the money five minutes before the storm was over” for their constituencies and “didn’t have any hesitation coming to us and asking us,” he said during floor debate Jan. 15. “And yes, I’m angry.”
Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat, called out Representative Mick Mulvaney, a South Carolina Republican, who voted against the Sandy aid package after his amendment off- setting some costs failed.
Mulvaney had said at a November 2011 House Small Business Committee hearing that he received a disaster relief loan from the Small Business Administration after he found his office furniture “floating in the front yard” six months after he started his own business.
“It’s ironic, of those who oppose this legislation, that many of them” backed disaster aid for their own communities and “some of them got disaster aid personally,” Pascrell said.
While most Republicans opposed the bill, the Club for Growth is “disappointed” that it “still passed a Republican- controlled House,” Keller said.
To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Oldham in Denver at firstname.lastname@example.org; Greg Giroux in Washington at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at firstname.lastname@example.org