Iowa Republican Congressman Steve King reiterated his stance on government aid to Hurricane Sandy victims on Tuesday saying that he would vote against disaster relief without a plan to pay for it, as well as a specific plan for how it all should be spent. This is the same stance he had when he voted, along with 10 other Republicans, against Hurricane Katrina disaster relief funds in 2005.
But while fiscal responsibility is a virtue, desperate times call for desperate measures. Natural disasters are assuredly desperate times, and they are often unpredictable and create untold amounts of carnage. To do as King would do, would cause delays in disaster response time and exacerbate the misery of the victims.
King is right in that substantial sums of money the government gave to Katrina victims were wasted. One billion dollars of fraud is nothing to scoff at, and there are advancements to be made in distributing relief funds. Perhaps just flat-out giving $2,000 debit cards to evacuees is not such a great idea. There are and should be changes to the way relief funds are meted out, and those changes should balance concerns such as speed and waste avoidance. King's vision — seen through his radically fiscal conservative lens — focuses far too much on waste avoidance, and not enough on the vast amounts of good that the relief will provide.
Having a specific plan for federal disaster relief money would mean one of two things. Either we plan in advance of natural disasters, and Congress knows and agrees exactly when, where, how and how much to spend; or, after disasters occur, Congress agrees on exactly when, where, how, and how much to spend. It is impossible to do the first thing because natural disasters are largely unpredictable or occur on relatively short notice. Even if we know ahead of time the general area that will be affected, we can't know for sure exactly how it will affect it. Thus, we can possibly allocate money to an area first but we couldn't put it toward specific activities. To plan ahead would be to plan broadly. This certainly wouldn't meet King's standards.
The second possibility is the more dangerous one. To have Congress deliberate, bicker, and bargain, and politicize a relief package while people lose their lives and homes would be a tragedy. The time lost as Congress works to figure out the bill, let alone implement it, would translate into more time people are left without aid, food, and shelter. The more specific the plan gets, the longer it would take to implement. It is possible to appease King's conditions on federal relief funds with this second possibility. However, it would be at the expense of victims during the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
King's reluctance to approve disaster relief funds is either foolish or political. Foolish in that the plan would waste crucial time, and therefore lives for the sake of possibly saving a few dollars; political in that he is trying to frame himself as a fiscal conservative rebelling against the money wasting big government machine. But he merely comes across as politically foolish putting ideals above lives at a time when the country would be well-served by casting politics aside.