Promote The General Welfare

This past weekend, Hurricane Irene stormed up the east coast of the US.  Though just a Category 1 hurricane, it was huge and it brought a lot of rain.  There is massive flooding up in the Northeast and all along the coast to with a massive cleanup.  This is where FEMA comes in (Federal Emergency Management Agency).  FEMA is the organization that was heavily criticized for botching up the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina back in 2005, and the agency has been under heavy scrutiny ever since.  And now, as the agency prepares to assist those all along the coast, especially those being flooded out in the Northeast, the Republicans in Congress have put a halt to disaster aid/more FEMA funding unless it can be offset by more budget cuts.

FEMA has a budget like any other agency in the federal government, and they are given so much money to cover that budget.  The difference with FEMA’s budget is that it’s hard to predict disasters and how much each disaster will cost.  And 2011 has been a very costly year in terms of disasters… wildfires out west, drought in Texas, tornadoes that ripped through Missouri (especially Joplin) and throughout the Midwest, early Spring flooding along the Mississippi River, and now a hurricane which has caused a massive amount of flooding.  FEMA’s budget has been stretched and nearly spent.   I mentioned the Joplin tornado for a specific reason… and not just because it’s my home state, but it became one of the most famous tornadoes of the spring (another one being the tornado that hit the St. Louis airport).  FEMA was in place and working to help the citizens of Joplin shortly after the twister tore a path through the town… helping with the clean-up and making sure the citizens had the basic necessities they would need to get through it and start on a path to rebuild.  However, recently, FEMA has had to cut back (if not completely pull out) of Joplin because of its budget limits… it’s money starting to run low and Congress objecting to increasing FEMA’s budget in the year of natural disasters.

Normally, Congress probably wouldn’t have thought twice about increasing FEMA’s budget so that disaster aid could get to the citizens that have been affected.  However, that was before Tea-Party Republicans came to Washington and started screaming about budget cuts… which in all honesty, even the masses were screaming about that.  I have no problem with budget cuts and think they were highly necessary in our over-bloated government.  But when it comes to disaster aid that is supposed to help out the citizens of this country at their most vulnerable and desperate moment, then I have a problem with that.  This is all being led by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA).  One might think this to be odd considering that Virginia did bear part of the wrath of Hurricane Irene, but not as severe as the Northeast… which is oddly enough, heavily Democratic.  (And as a quick sidenote, it was Eric Cantor that was feuding with House Speaker John Boenher during the debt-ceiling debate.)

We like the idea of the government being smaller where it needs to be.  We don’t like an overbloated government that is wasting our dollars… which we do see everyday. (And I’m not claiming that FEMA isn’t guilty of this either… it is a government agency, afterall.)  However, aiding its citizens after a natural disaster is a primary role for our government.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”  Preamble of the US Constitution

Disaster Assistance Process

How is it that our government can “promote the general Welfare” if it’s not going out there to help its own citizens in their most desperate time of need?  Now I’m sure Congressman Cantor can defend himself by saying that it’s not that they aren’t willing to help, but rather they want other budget cuts to offset the increase.  As I’ve said before, it’s hard to predict what mother nature will throw at us in a given year… so disasters are hard to budget, as a result.  This, in it’s most basic of tasks, is what the federal government should be doing.  It’s not a hand-out, so to speak.  It’s a helping hand for the people to get back on their feet… to get things cleaned up, and infrastructure rebuilt.  In the case of the Northeast, roads and bridges will have to rebuilt as many of them have been swept away.  It helps get money flowing to these areas so that life can get back to normal as quickly as possible… and FEMA does provide shelter and food for those dark days until “normal” returns anew.  And let’s not forget one other little tidbit, states do have to repay FEMA some of the money that is shelled out, which is also a problem considering states are facing such budget problems and can’t pay FEMA back as quickly as they normally would.  Now this becomes a bigger funding problem now that the states are involved and their weak economies from the current recession.

So let me toy with Congressman Cantor’s concept.  He wants budget cuts to offset extra FEMA spending/disaster aid.  I highly suggest, as I know I have done before on a completely different topic, that we start with his district.  If any FEMA aid went to his district for Hurricane Irene or any other disaster, then it should be the first to be cut out and put to use in areas where it is needed most.  Cut out all the special projects that the federal government is shelling out money for in his district and put it to use in the disaster areas up north.  And that sounds like a good place to start as any.  Oh wait… there is one problem.  If this was done, he would scream foul.  He would blame the Democratic-machine and President Obama for cutting funding to a Republican-district and would start spewing out that FEMA isn’t needed and should be done away with.  Sounds about right.  I can already envision it even.

The status quo of how our government operates and spends money is at a tipping point right now.  I’ve already discussed the topic of pork spending in a different blog entry (click HERE), but disaster aid is not something I consider pork spending.  Can there be wasteful spending in disaster relief?  Sure there can be.  But that doesn’t mean that the people should be left to fend for themselves to pick up the pieces.  It is the government’s job to “Promote the general Welfare” of it’s citizens… most especially after such natural disasters.  It is not a time to play partisan politics and strike up party talking points… not when people’s lives are on the line.  It’s a time when things need to get done, and they need to be done quickly.  Our society… the people of our country… expect nothing less in these times.  We all learned a great deal in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and we have made great strides to correct the errors within the system so that doesn’t happen again.  Let us now rise above our political parties and all the rancorous debate that has been going on as of late, and go to work to help our people, our communities, as only we Americans know how to do, and let the federal government do it’s job in taking the lead for its citizens.

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