What fiscal crisis?
That might be the response from the U.S. Senate's passage Friday of a bill that aims at helping the victims of Superstorm Sandy in October.
After defeating a Republican proposal that would have sent $24 billion over the next three months to communities and people in the Northeast who were directly harmed by Sandy, the Senate passed a Democratic plan that was more than double the amount and includes spending not directly related to recovery from that storm. And of the $60.4 billion the Democratic plan calls for in total spending, the same amount — $24 billion — will be allocated to communities and individuals directly affected by Sandy ... only the Congressional Budget Office estimates that only $9 billion will have been spent by the one-year anniversary of the hurricane.
The bill has to pass the GOP-controlled House before it can be sent to the president and there's some question as whether the House will take it up before the Congress adjourns and, if it does, whether it will agree to writing the massive check.
Providing relief to the victims of Sandy, which impacted nearly a dozen states, is certainly something worthy of congressional action. The problem is the spending that isn't directed toward recovery from that storm.
As is their custom regardless of what they try to tell constituents, senators tossed in some expensive add-ons to guarantee passage of their measure. As far as we can tell, Alaska missed out on being hit by the storm, yet that state would be eligible for some of the $150 billion for replenishing fishery stocks. Amtrak would get $336 million. The West Coast would get $56 million to pay for cleaning up debris from the 2011 Japan tsunami. And while we are fans of the Smithsonian Institution, we don't see where a $2 million appropriation for roof repairs fits into helping victims of Sandy recover.
That's not to say that those projects or others the Democratic leadership included are not worthy of federal funding — provisions such as $12.1 bill for transportation projects, $9.7 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program, $5.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers, $821 million for dredging projects, $58 million for U.S. Department of Agriculture reforestation projects and $50 million for the National Park Service's Historic Preservation Fund. But how is all of that emergency funding necessary to help victims of Sandy recover?
By adding these spending provisions, the bill's supporters can cloak them with a heart-felt plea that anyone who opposes this bill is a callous individual who has no compassion for the victims of Sandy.
What Congress should do is go back to the GOP proposal and pass that, getting the funds to the cities and people who need it in an expedited fashion. If these other projects are worthy of funding, lawmakers should evaluate them and make decisions on them under their normal appropriations procedures.
At the very least, Congress should require itself to include "truth in labeling" when titling its legislation.