One of the qualities of Americans in the past was the ability to come together during times of distress or crisis to help those least able to care for themselves, and it was especially true during natural disasters. Americans have always been generous and willing to sacrifice to aid those in need as the country witnessed after earthquakes, floods, and destructive forest fires. The assistance from volunteer groups and relief organizations was in addition to government aid that was offered after a governor or president declared a state of emergency that is necessary to trigger government assistance for rebuilding and disaster relief to the affected areas.
During George W. Bush’s presidency, the response to Hurricane Katrina was a portent of a new standard that Republicans in the 112th Congress are continuing with spending cuts to programs that assist the poor and serve the general population. Republicans have proposed cuts to FEMA, severe weather warning systems, earthquake and tsunami monitoring programs, and myriad other public safety programs established to protect every region of the United States. After a tornado that leveled most of Joplin, Missouri killed 124 (at last count) in the deadliest storm since records have been kept, Republican majority leader Eric Cantor said, “If there is support for a supplemental, it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental.” Cantor’s statement means any emergency funding Congress approves is tied to spending cuts equal to the cost of the disaster relief.
President Obama issued a statement pledging a full federal response for the devastated area and added “We are here for you, we’re going to stay by you.” The president also pledged to sustain recovery efforts “after the news cameras leave.” However, the House must first approve funding for the recovery efforts, and as they have shown since the 112th Congress has been in session, they are not above holding any efforts hostage to achieve cuts to programs that benefit all Americans. In recent weeks, Republicans have expressed their willingness to crash the economy by refusing to raise the debt ceiling unless more Draconian spending cuts are made to Medicare and important safety nets.
Earlier this year, Republicans proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). NOAA is a federal agency that focuses on the condition of the oceans and the atmosphere as well as administering the National Hurricane Center. NOAA also provides weather forecasting programs that touch the lives of every American with predictions based on weather information gleaned from satellite data and various information gathering systems. Except for coastal regions that benefit from hurricane predictions provided by the weather service and NOAA, the region in and around Joplin benefits most from early tornado warnings.
Earlier this month, tornado forecasting saved countless lives in Alabama after an April 27th tornado demolished Tuscaloosa. The band of tornadoes that ravaged the South killed an estimated 328 people across seven states with damages estimated in the billions. The death toll would have been much higher if not for satellite-assisted early warnings that allowed many people to seek shelter 20 minutes before the tornadoes began touching down. The entire Republican Congressional delegation from Alabama voted unanimously against maintaining forecasting quality as part of the GOP’s spending cuts earlier in the year.
One has to wonder what the residents of Joplin are thinking about their Republican congressional legislators who voted to defund NOAA, and whether or not they will support Cantor’s declaration that any recovery is tied to spending cuts in other areas such as the National Weather Service and FEMA. The damage estimates for Joplin are expected to be about $3 billion which is just under the amount Republicans are giving the oil industry in subsidies this year. Earlier this month, Republicans voted to continue subsidies and blocked efforts to force the industry to pay royalties on oil drilling leases. The five largest oil companies posted record profits in the first quarter of this year and Republicans rejected proposed tax increases on the industry that pays nothing in taxes on their profits.
Republicans demonstrate every day that they have contempt for the American people and Cantor’s attitude typifies GOP favoritism for the oil industry at the expense of the people affected by devastating natural disasters. At some point, Americans must acknowledge that the Republicans are leaving people to fend for themselves in every aspect of their lives and they are just getting started.
Americans do not get the opportunity to designate where their tax dollars go or how they are spent, but as the economy struggles and crucial services are being slashed, it is a safe assumption that giving tax dollars to the oil industry and corporations is not their first choice. In fact, polls show that Americans do not want services cut so the wealthy and corporations can continue getting tax breaks. Two days ago, Paul Ryan said that Americans wanted Republicans to privatize Medicare and cut Social Security when in truth, 80% of Americans reject the voucher scam.
It is sad that Republicans are going to tie recovery for the victims to spending cuts, because if the GOP has its way, NOAA, FEMA, and other agencies will be eliminated. It is part of Republican ideology that mirrors libertarian belief that people are on their own and government exists to fund the military and give taxpayer dollars to corporations. Apparently, Republicans would privatize the weather service if they could get away with it so corporations can charge to provide early warnings during severe weather, and if a region doesn’t pay, they will not be warned in advance of impending tornadoes or hurricanes.
It is prescient that Republicans deny global climate change is occurring because climate scientists predicted that weather events like the Joplin tornado will be more extreme, and that the country will suffer more devastation making prediction more crucial than ever. Eric Cantor is not the only Republican who supports more spending cuts to pay for rebuilding efforts in Joplin, and it will not be surprising if the Republicans from Missouri also support holding recovery assistance hostage.
Americans have already begun donating privately to assist the victims in Missouri and it speaks to the generosity of the American people. Meanwhile, the GOP blocked Democrats from repealing corporate entitlements that would go a long way toward funding recovery and rebuilding efforts in tornado-ravaged areas like Joplin and Tuscaloosa. Republicans in Congress are extremely generous as long as they can take taxpayer’s dollars to give to the oil industry in the form of subsidies and tax breaks. However, when it comes to assisting victims of natural disasters, Republicans are willing to let people suffer in order to repay their corporate donors. Americans have given enough to the oil industry and corporations, and it is time that taxpayer dollars are used to assist people who need it most.
Republicans will never understand that government exists to protect and care for its citizens whether they suffer from natural disasters or lose their jobs to corporate outsourcing. America has entered a new era where citizens exist to support rich industrialists, and Republicans exist to finish off victims of natural disasters.
Unfortunately, ignorant Republican voters in Missouri will re-elect representatives who will defund the agencies that may save them from the next tornado, and when they are left homeless they will blame Democrats for not making drastic spending cuts. It is a vicious cycle that will leave generous Americans destitute and industrialists in charge of the government which is exactly what Republicans have planned for decades.