POLITICS

The Washington Post’s bogus disaster poll

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Conn Carroll,The Washington Post,Polls

The Washington Post is trumpeting a new poll purporting to show that Americans hate Sen. Tom Coburn’s position on disaster relief funding. Chris Cillizza and Sean Sullivan write:

Nearly six in 10 Americans believe that the federal government should provide funds to states affected by natural disasters without having to cut spending in other areas to do so, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll.

Fifty-nine percent of all respondents say federal emergency aid need not be offset by cuts in other parts of the budget — a number that includes a majority (52 percent) of self-identified Republicans as well as nearly seven in 10 Democrats.

Those numbers come in the aftermath of a tornado that devastated the town of Moore, Okla., and led some conservatives, including Oklahoma’s own Sen. Tom Coburn, to insist that any federal spending on the cleanup effort had to come from some other corner of the federal budget.

But that isn’t Coburn’s position, and it never has been. The phrasing of the Post’s poll question is completely ignorant of how disaster spending has been funded by the federal government for decades. Here is what the newspaper asked:

Thinking about the federal government’s response to major natural disasters, which comes closer to your view even if neither is exactly right?

Federal spending in response to natural disasters must be offset by cuts to other programs.
or
Federal spending in response to natural disasters is emergency aid that does not need to be offset by cuts to other programs.

This phrasing completely ignores the fact that the federal government has had a Disaster Relief Fund since 1988 and that the current balance of that fund is $11.6 billion.

To put that in perspective, when a tornado destroyed Joplin, Mo., in 2011, FEMA spent less than $190 million on all disaster relief services. Considering that Moore is just slightly bigger than Joplin (55,000 people to 50,000), the federal disaster needs in Oklahoma shouldn’t be more than about $250 million. That means FEMA has plenty currently in the Disaster Relief Fund to meet Oklahoma’s needs.

In other words, there is absolutely zero need to offset any of the tornado disaster funding because Congress already budgeted for it. The Post’s question is completely worthless. Here is how they should have phrased the question:

Thinking about the federal government’s response to major natural disasters, which comes closer to your view even if neither is exactly right?

Congress should plan ahead and budget for natural disaster spending every year.
or
Congress should pretend natural disasters never happen and just borrow the money when they inevitably occur.

Bet that wording would have won Coburn some more support.

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