COLUMN: Big government is bad until red states need help
It’s an old story, freshened anew by Hurricane Harvey: Republicans profess to hate “Big Guvmint” as a matter of principle — until catastrophe hits a red state. Suddenly, they’re fine with federal spending and completely dump their rhetorical boilerplate about the nanny state.
And hey, Texas is truly entitled to all the help it needs. It’s just annoying that the Republicans currently begging for help are such hypocrites.
When New Jersey — indeed, the entire east coast — needed massive federal aid in the wake of Sandy, Texas Republicans denounced it as “pork” and voted against it. But now that their own fiefdom has been devastated, it’s supposedly a different deal.
For proof, let’s check in with Texas’ most infamous performance artist, Sen. Ted Cruz.
In January 2013, when Congress readied a $50-billion Sandy recovery package, 36 Republican senators — including Cruz and fellow Texas Sen. John Cornyn — voted to reject it. Those are the same senators, who, in the wake of Harvey, wrote a letter begging the federal government “to provide any and all emergency protective measures.”
This week, when Cruz was on MSNBC pleading for his “any and all” Harvey recovery package, he was asked about his thumbs-down Sandy vote. In response, he insisted that “the bill was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.”
According to a report released four years ago by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, virtually all of that recovery money was targeted for damage caused by Sandy — plus, in a few cases, to repair lingering damage from previous disasters. Some of the naysaying Texas Republicans (23 of 24 House members voted “no”) had also complained that a slice of the Sandy money was earmarked for the Head Start program — but, as the fact-checkers point out, “that was limited to facilities that had been damaged [by Sandy] in New Jersey and New York.”
But hey, when Texas gets whacked, their impulse is to open the spigot. As Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin observed, “When something like Harvey comes long, the light ever so briefly goes on for the anti-government types ... When the tragedy is in deep-red Texas, not deep-blue New Jersey or New Orleans, suddenly the wonders of government become clear to them ... The crew that cheered Trump’s proposed 11 percent cut to FEMA (government is bad!) will support billions of dollars in Harvey relief (my people are suffering!).”
This kind of thing is standard Republican (mis)behavior. I’ll refresh your memory:
Tom Cotton, the Arkansas Republican senator, voted “no” on that Sandy recovery package — but in 2015, he pleaded for federal money when his red state was hit by floods. Four Colorado Republican lawmakers voted “no” on the Sandy package — but months later, they pleaded for federal money when their state was hit by floods.
In 2011, Oklahoma senators Tom Coburn and James Inhofe tried to cut FEMA’s budget, and when the emergency agency temporarily ran out of money, Coburn voted not to refund it.
Then, in 2013, both guys voted “no” on the Sandy package. But when their own state got hit by killer tornadoes later that year, they begged for federal aid. Coburn declared: “As the ranking member of the committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.”
Then we have South Carolina. This one is a classic.
None of the senators or congressmen voted for the 2013 Sandy recovery package. House member Mick Mulvaney — who now serves as Trump’s budget director — even insisted that if the federal government sent aid to New Jersey, there should be corresponding cuts elsewhere in the federal budget. But in 2015, when South Carolina was flooded by a killer storm, Mulvaney suddenly felt differently. He insisted that his state’s relief money didn’t need to be offset by budget cuts elsewhere: “There will be a time for a discussion about aid and how to pay for it, but that time is not now.”
The star of that show was Senator Lindsey Graham. He also voted “no” on the Sandy package, falsely calling it a “porkfest.” But when South Carolina got flooded, he surfaced on CNN to say that the taxpayers needed to pony up, big time: “Rather than put a price tag on it, let’s just get through this thing, and whatever it costs, it costs.”
But that line of his — “whatever it costs, it — sounds like the Cruz-Cornyn letter, which begs for “any and all” federal bucks. Hence, my definition of a big-government liberal: A conservative whose state has been hit by a climate catastrophe.
Rest assured when Congress votes on the Harvey recovery, Democrats won’t whine about “pork” and budget “offsets.” They’ll vote to bail out Texas because they know it’s the role of government to aid citizens in crisis. And the next time a climate disaster strikes a blue state, it would nice if Republicans park their hypocrisy and respond with the same generosity.
Dick Polman is the national political columnist at NewsWorks/WHYY in Philadelphia (newsworks.org/polman) and a “Writer in Residence” at the University of Pennsylvania. Email him at email@example.com.