The U.S. taxpayers may have gotten lucky. It appears congressional approval for a new infusion of disaster relief funds may not be needed for the May 20 tornado that devastated Moore, because some of the money left over from Hurricane Sandy is being put to good use in Oklahoma.
There’s some irony in that, because Oklahoma’s two senators – Tom Coburn and Jim Inhofe – voted against relief for Sandy victims. Most of Oklahoma’s delegation followed suit, except Congressman Tom Cole, who commented at the time that someday, Oklahoma would be asking for help. Moore is Cole’s home district, and he had said he would vote in favor of disaster relief, but that seems consistent with the pattern established by this true “compassionate conservative.” Though he’s held to his Republican roots in supporting smaller government, when it comes to folks who really need help, he’s in their corner.
To his credit, Coburn is also consistent: He voted against aid for Hurricane Sandy victims, and he planned to vote against it for tornado victims in Oklahoma. It’s not that he’s opposed to disaster relief in principle, but he feels that for every “new” dollar of federal spending, a dollar needs to be cut elsewhere in the budget. That sounds plausible, but in reality, it never happens, as any accountant will tell you. Coburn knows this, too, because his GOP colleagues in Congress are just as guilty as any of their free-spending Democratic counterparts when it comes to protecting their own private pork barrels.
While Coburn and Cole may be consistent when it comes to emergency spending, Inhofe is a study in contradictions. He said the Moore tornado was “totally different” than the Hurricane Sandy situation, because riders had been attached to fund unrelated projects. It’s hard to disagree with Inhofe that such clauses have no place in emergency funding, but one has to wonder if he’s using that as an excuse to be stingy with fellow Americans who need our help.
“Conservative,” for some politicians, has been redefined as “spartan” – stripping government to the bare bones and rendering it impotent. But austerity measures are wearing thin, not just in the U.S., but elsewhere. As most experts in the number-crunch game agree, it’s not possible to make drastic cuts over a span of a year or two without risking economic meltdown. We’re seeing pullbacks on the extreme belt-tightening in European countries for that reason – and these countries have been around far longer than the U.S. Poking fun at their “socialist” agendas or liberal philosophies seems juvenile when our own system hasn’t stood the test of real time. But if budget cuts are the name of the game, and we want to reduce the deficit, let’s hitch up a bandwagon most voters would be happy to ride. Let’s cut the salaries of the do-nothing politicians in the Beltway, take away their honorariums, and let them – instead of taxpayers – foot the bill for their cherry health care policies. Then we might be able to help folks who have, through no fault of their own, become victims in the wake of a natural disaster.
It’s what the public wants. A poll conducted last week shows 59 percent of Americans think disaster relief for the tornado should be funded separately from existing programs, while only 23 percent wanted that spending offset by other cuts. Inhofe and Coburn might be surprised to learn 53 percent of Republicans feel that way. Cole probably wouldn’t be surprised. As he told NPR: “I actually think people are much more reasonable than politicians sometimes. And if you’ll come back and explain the issue to them, they usually understand.” Perhaps these same “people” will also come to understand the representatives they elected aren’t necessarily representing them.