The past few weeks have been tough for most of the Northeast. It was a fairly wet August to begin with, when Hurricane Irene came through, followed in short order by the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee. What most people tend to forget, because such storms are measured by their wind speeds, is that it’s not the wind that does the most damage, it’s the water. The Northeast has experienced record floods over the past two weeks, and here in New York, entire communities have been washed away or suffered extreme damage.
In my area, we mostly dodged the severe damage. We had some flooding, but nothing like we had this spring. What damage we did have was mainly from trees being blown down.
Yes, there is a road underneath the trees. Bad as it looks, it was a few days to clear them out, and most of the damage was fairly rapidly repaired. There’s still a lot of clean-up to be done, but the most serious stuff is out of the way. But that’s not the case elsewhere. Tree damage is one thing, water another entirely. In other parts of the state, roads, bridges, dams, farms, and houses all suffered destruction from flood waters. The town of Prattsville has half of the buildings on its Main Street street condemned as unsafe and scheduled for demolition. I talked to a fireman from the area, and he said his department had made what would normally be 1/3rd of their annual responses in a week. He told me of driving the fire engine through 4 feet of water, and having one of the men in the rear call forward and say “look to your right.” There was a house sliding down a hill, and as he said “I never thought I’d see something like that.”
It’s not just New York that suffered. Vermont suffered heavy damage, as bridges washed out, and entire towns were cut off from outside contact. Pennsylvania and New Jersey suffered major damage, and deaths and damage were reported from North Carolina to Maine. A major disaster affecting multiple states, creating damage beyond the capabilities of local and state governments to fund repairs and recover from it. Which is exactly why we have FEMA.
It’s been a bad year for disasters, and unfortunately, FEMA needed additional funds. Which is when Republicans in Congress decided to show just how caring they are. Representative Eric Cantor demanded that any funding be matched with cuts elsewhere, just as he did with the Joplin, Missouri tornado. This went over like a lead balloon with leaders in the affected states. Even fellow Republicans from the affected area were irate about it, and one representative, Nan Hayworth, who tried to toe the party line, ended up changing her tune after local Republicans had … unprintable things … to say about her statements. When the funding measure came up in the Senate, Jeff Sessions of Alabama blocked it, until a number of other Senators – including 8 from his Party – overrode him. I might note that Senator Sessions had no qualms about asking for FEMA aid when his state was hit by a tornado.
At no time in the past has disaster aid been subjected to the political games that the Tea Party Republicans are playing. The rule of thumb has has always been “help now, worry about the budget games later.” Many of these representatives are in states which have benefited from that in the past – and I don’t mean the far past, either. Those points haven’t been lost on the people whose lives were affected by this disaster. It’s one thing to be concerned about deficits and federal spending. Many of these areas are “conservative,” in the old sense of the term. Many of them are life-long Republicans, and voted for some of the current members of the House and Senate. They’ve never complained about disaster aid to other areas. They’ve always recognized that sometimes things are just too big for individuals, local government, or even states to handle on their own. So you can imagine their reaction when it’s their disaster. It’s not nice. What they see is a cold-blooded willingness to play stupid political games instead of pitching in to help out. They know they need help, they’ve asked for it, and to see various elected officials get stupid about it in the name of ideology – not practicality – infuriates them.
Which is going have an impact for Republicans in 2012. The people in those states are still going to be cleaning up the mess next year, and they’ll have a lot of reminders of who played games with that right in front of them. They’re going to remember it, and what happens when you pick someone who chooses ideology over practicality. It’s going to be a rough year for the Tea Party next year, and it couldn’t happen to a better bunch.