Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill In Congress Proves Yet Again That I Am A Contrarian

At the last moments of the 112th Congress just after New Year's, John Boehner pulled from the agenda the $60.4 billion Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill that had already passed the Senate.  As a result, the bill died, and will have to be re-introduced in the new Congress.

All of New York and New Jersey are officially outraged that Congress did not pass this bill.  This proves once again that I am just a contrarian.   The Congress should definitely not pass this bill or anything like it.  My view is based not only on the fact that this bill is ridiculously overpriced and larded with pork, but more importantly on the fact that such spending by Congress is a bad idea in general and a huge disadvantage to New York and New Jersey in particular.  Am I the only one who can see why this is so?

First, let's have a review of official establishment New York/New Jersey opinion on the bill.  We'll start with the New York Times on December 28: 

[T]he Northeast [must] get the $60.4 billion in aid it needs to recover from Hurricane Sandy. . . .   Responding to and preparing for natural disasters is one of government’s most important functions. Each time a huge storm hits, lawmakers should provide immediate relief without having to worry about . . . House members putting ideology before common-sense preparation.

That's actually temperate compared to this from the Daily News on January 3:

House Speaker John Boehner will evermore bear the degrading stain of a dishonorable man unless on Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, Congress passes the full $60 billion superstorm Sandy relief bill. . . .  No one so small, so petty, so duplicitous and, worst of all, so callously and cavalierly ready to tell Americans in dire need to go to hell has a rightful place at the highest reaches of the government.

Whew!  Even to suggest that the $60 billion amount should be examined is to brand yourself as "small," "petty," "duplicitous," and "callous"!  Governor Christie of New Jersey on January 2 tried to top even that one (via ABC News):

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said today that it was "disgusting" that the House adjourned without voting on a $60 billion relief package for the victims of superstorm Sandy and put the blame squarely on a fellow Republican -- House Speaker John Boehner. . . .   Christie in an angry news conference decried the "selfishness and duplicity," the "palace intrigue," "the callous indifference to the people of our state."

And maybe the angriest of all was Republican Congressman Peter King of Long Island (via NewsMax):

“They raised millions of dollars in New York City and New Jersey, they sent Governor Christie around the country raising millions of dollars for them.  I’m saying, anyone from New York and New Jersey who gives one penny to the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee should have their head examined.”

Well, the New York Times may think that disaster relief is "one of government's most important functions," but for the first 150 or so years of the Republic the Feds didn't do it at all, and even when I was a kid they barely got involved in it.  There was a gradual change, and only with Hurricane Katrina in 2005 had the idea completely taken hold that it's the Federal government's job to pay off one hundred percent of all losses and restore everything back to perfection with the infinite credit card.

And of course the result of this foolish policy is unbelievable overbuilding on barrier islands and other exposed places, just to get ready for the next storm and the next Federal bailout.  During a visit to New Orleans in 2011 we visited sites in the below-sea-level Lower Ninth Ward where deluded celebrities were hard at work building new homes to "help the disadvantaged."  What are they thinking?  People should not live there other than at risk purely of their own money.  Poor people should just not live there at all.

And if Federal government open-check-book disaster relief is a bad idea for the country as a whole, it is a particularly terrible idea for New York and New Jersey, because these areas, thankfully, are not very subject to natural disasters.  We almost never get a serious tornado or earthquake, and hurricanes, while they do occur, are quite rare here compared to other areas like the Gulf Coast and Florida.  According to data from NOAA here, in the 50 years from 1961 to 2010 some 27 "major" hurricanes (categories 3, 4 and 5) made landfall in the United States.  Of those, 23 hit the Gulf Coast or Florida; 3 hit the Carolinas; and just one (Gloria in 1985) hit in the mid-Atlantic.  While we may be looking to get a big handout at this moment, over time the disaster relief game is a massive transfer away from New York and New Jersey and to other areas far more susceptible to hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes.  By demanding this relief now, we are encouraging more building in those areas and setting ourselves up to pay 10 or 20 or more times any amount we can hope to get in today's handout.

In any sustainable model, government disaster relief needs to be brought closer to home where it won't be treated like free money to be wasted at will.  Governor Christie, and for that matter Cuomo, should take the occasion to divert money from the many bloated portions of their own budgets, like school spending (where in New York we spend about double the national average per student) and pensions, and when the special interests seek to defend their own perks in the face of the hurricane victims, they should be called "disgusting," which they are.  But Christie and Cuomo recognize the Federal government as a much softer touch than the home town government employee labor unions.

So it's not hard to understand why a big Federal handout looks like a good idea to a Chris Christie or a Peter King.  For Christie, he can exploit the hurricane victims to get himself bailed out of a bad budget situation and avoid a big fight with the local unions.  King, like all the Congressmen (and Schumer is far worse), loves the people to believe in a world where the Federal government is the infinite candy man and the adoring public must come kiss the feet of those dispensing the Federal money.  Both Christie and King (and Cuomo and Schumer) will be long gone when their erstwhile constituents get done paying for the next 20 hurricanes in Florida and the Gulf.

Far less comprehensible is how seemingly intelligent people in the press fall for this game.  Yes, I mean you New York Times and Daily News.  The Post also has not been blameless, but far less so than the other two; at least it admits the legitimacy of examining the $60 billion to see how much of it is actual disaster relief and how much is pork and political payoffs.

And finally, a word on the $60 billion.  I don't have the resources to check every item in the bill, but I know enough about several of the items to know that this number is wildly, ridiculously padded.  See here.  Has anyone but me noticed that the $60 billion happens to be just about exactly the same amount that the newly increased taxes are supposed to raise in the entire coming year?  That's right, every penny of it in the first year is planned to go for just one disaster relief bill.  And now that our modus operandi is that the Feds must pay every penny of loss from every disaster, what is the chance that there won't be at least one of these, or maybe two, pretty much every year?  In other words, the entire tax increase is spent before getting to the first dollar for reducing the deficits.  This is not a sustainable model, people.