Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is responding to Republican charges that his preferred Hurricane Sandy relief package is larded with unrelated pork barrel spending by spreading the wealth around in an effort to buy off some Republican votes.
Reid hinted that he was working on such a deal during his press conference today, as he complained about the failure to pass a Sandy relief package yet.
“When Irene struck, we acted very quickly,” Reid said this morning. “We didn’t wait and say, well let’s see, Alabama has two Republican senators, Mississippi has two Republican senators, Texas has two Republican senators, Louisiana has one Republican senator.” Note well: Reid listed seven Republican senators, which is exactly how many Republican votes Reid needs in order to break a filibuster of his preferred $60.4 billion relief package.
The Washington Examiner obtained a copy of the Reid revisions from a Senate Republican aide that has notes in the margins indicating how Reid intends to acquire that Republican support.
For instance, the Army Corps of Engineers would be authorized to spend $50 million to ameliorate flood and storm damage caused by “Hurricanes Sandy and Isaac in the North Atlantic and Mississippi Valley divisions of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” The original language, scratched out in pen, provided funding for Sandy relief only. Hurricane Isaac resulted disaster declarations in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida.
The new Reid proposal would also authorize the Department of Housing and Urban Development to spend $500 million on restoring housing and infrastructure, rather than the mere $100 million previously written in the draft. This funding is available to “small or economically distressed areas with a disaster declared in 2011 or 2012″ — so, damage caused by events unrelated to Hurricane Sandy.
In 2011 alone, the federal government declared disasters in 42 states. “Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene alone accounted for disaster declarations in 11 states in August and September,” Politifact recalled. “Oregon saw mudslides and landslides in February and a tsunami wave surge in March. Tornadoes struck Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia in April. Wildfires first triggered federal help in Texas in July.” So, this funding could go to the states whose senators are being targeted by Reid.
According to a Senate aide, the original language already includes a giveaway to Sen. David Vitter, R-La., because it authorizes ‘that any project that is under study by the Corps for reducing flooding and storm damage risks and that the Corps studies demonstrate will Cost effectively reduce those risks” (page 16).
The Washington Examiner contacted Reid’s office to find out if these proposals had convinced the seven Republicans to change their votes, but didn’t hear back in time for this publication. The vote is expected later today.
“Democrats still seem to think that the best reason for spending money we don’t have is the fact that they’ve always done it that way,” a Senate Republican aide familiar with the Sandy legislation told The Washington Examiner. “They don’t seem to recognize that this is how we ended up with a $16 trillion debt. The quickest way to get these funds to the people who need them is to forget the bribes, strip out the pork, and focus on the victims. Or does that make too much sense?”
Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., proposed a $23.8 billion package that “focuses on Hurricane Sandy only, not responses to previous or future disasters” and “eliminates funding for non-Hurricane Sandy projects” such as the proposed funding to repair a Smithsonian museum roof or subsidize fisheries in Alaska.
“The victims of Hurricane Sandy need federal assistance to help them rebuild their lives and their communities as quickly as possible,” Coats said in a statement yesterday. “We need to make sure that each taxpayer dollar spent is going to meet the needs of those affected by this devastating storm, rather than funding unrelated or unsubstantiated projects.”