POLITICS

Morning Examiner: The not-so-emergency Sandy spending bill

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Conn Carroll

Last night, a star-studded cast of musicians and comedians including Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Kanye West, Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Alicia Keys, and Jon Stewart performed for six hours at Madison Square Garden to benefit the victims of Hurricane Sandy. It is still to early to tell how much the benefit raised in total, but ticket sales alone brought in over $30 million.

Americans clearly want to do all they can to help Sandy victims. Any politician standing in the way of ‘emergency’ relief is sure to be pilloried by the media. But shouldn’t there be some limit to how much money is devoted to the region? And shouldn’t that money be limited to addressing true ‘emergency’ needs?

Not according to the $60.4 billion request the Obama administration submitted to Congress for Hurricane Sandy relief spending last week. According to a Congressional Budget Office report released yesterday just $21.7 billion of the total will be spent before October 2014. And only half the money is scheduled to be spent by 2015. This is for a storm that occurred in 2012.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency currently has just $6 billion cash on hand that can be devoted to help Sandy victims. More is needed. And House Republicans are more than eager to pony up billions more in funding. But $60 billion, more than half of which will not be spent for over three years, does not qualify as emergency spending.

For example, Obama’s spending request includes more than $15 billion for Community Development Block Grants. While this spending program has a nice sounding name, taxpayers may not be happy to hear how the program spent past ‘emergency’ funds. After 9/11, the CDBG was given $3.4 billion in disaster relief spending and these are just some of the items it went to:

$700,000 for 3 years of summertime cultural festivals in lower Manhattan;
$250,000 for 2 years of free public art exhibits in City Hall Park;
$100,000 for a new climate control system for the Museum of American Finance.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., told Politico that he would be willing to provide a first tranche of emergency spending now and then consider more long-term spending projects later in the spring. How is that not a more reasonable approach?

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