If Republicans merely got through their tenures without increasing net spending, it would be an unprecedented victory. Thankfully, President Trump is finally putting his foot down on yet another $17.3 billion disaster package winding its way through Congress.
In April, Republicans were ready to throw another $13.5 billion in disaster aid at the gods of political pork. Thankfully, they were stopped by the intransigence of the Left. Democrats felt that the $600 million earmarked for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico wasn’t enough, even though they have already appropriated $40 billion in disaster aid and Puerto Rico has already received a quasi-bailout for its culture of debt.
But given how sensitive Republicans are to the identity politics inherent in squabbles over funding for Puerto Rico, they were on their way to pursuing their favorite pastime – caving to the Democrats on their spending demands – until President Trump stepped in and demanded an end to all new aid for the mismanaged island.
Today, House Democrats will vote on their $17.3 billion version (H.R. 2157) of disaster aid in the face of the looming veto threat from the president. While it’s not news that Democrats will pass this bill, what should be alarming is that Senate Republicans are planning to follow suit. Republicans continue to move to the Democrat position, begging them to accept even more money for Puerto Rico rather than holding their ground.
Agreeing to the entire premise of the Democrats that Puerto Rico is a national emergency instead of our border, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said yesterday, “We’re open to additional Puerto Rican assistance” and, “We need to pass it out of the Senate before the Memorial Day recess.”
Here’s the reality. Under regular spending, all of the relevant agencies and departments receiving funding under this supplemental spending bill, particularly the Department of Transportation and HUD, have record high budgets thanks to huge spending over the past few years. Spending is now 13.7 percent higher than under Obama’s final year, and that is with the economy doing much better. On top of that, over the past few years, Congress already passed $117.5 billion in disaster spending in 2017 and included numerous disaster relief provisions in the appropriations bills of the past two fiscal years.
Additionally, much of the disaster aid has nothing to do with immediate emergency needs, but with filling the already bloated coffers of liberal HUD and Department of Agriculture programs. Much as with any package that is titled “children,” any bill titled “disaster relief” is beyond reproach, circumspection, or any verification of the need for each line item. Given that so much money has already been appropriated, no new funds should be appropriated in a rush without any oversight unless they are clearly urgent needs, not long-term policies.
This bill throws more money at the Community Development Block Grant program. The CDBG has long been a wasteful welfare program for low-income housing assistance and other local parochial projects that should have been shouldered by local governments long before any natural disasters hit. Trump’s OMB suggested eliminating it altogether, and even the Obama administration proposed cuts in fiscal year 2012 because, in their words, the program lacked a “focused impact,” making “the demonstration of outcomes difficult to measure and evaluate.” But the hurricanes provided liberals with a good opportunity for those always looking to expand this program to do so under the veneer of emergency spending, even though Congress already grew its budget by 88 percent in the budget deal last year.
While this bill covers long-term spending, not just emergency needs, it doesn’t offer long-term reforms that should accompany any immediate bailouts. Congress already enacted yet another $16 billion bailout of the flood insurance program without any desire to reform the government’s monopoly over flood insurance that has induced people to build in flood zones in the first place. This bill contains yet another extension of the program.
Perhaps the most egregious element is another $3 billion thrown at farm aid. Congress just passed a $900 billion farm bill in December, doubling down on massive subsidies for corporate farms and landowners who aren’t even farmers, while guaranteeing all protection from even “shallow loss” of revenue. This is the problem with Congress’ modus operandi of double- and triple-dipping. They embed endless individual and corporate welfare into the regular appropriations bills and then step on the gas pedal to raise the spending levels as quickly as possible. Then, when there is a disaster, they come back for more in supplemental disaster bills, as if they never spent money on these very programs before.
Then there is the issue of Puerto Rico. It’s terribly tragic that it was pummeled with a direct hit from Hurricane Maria, resulting in the death of thousands of island residents. But the hurricane was not the primary driver of Puerto Rico’s economic problems. The desire for more funding beyond the existing $40 billion aid package is coming more from the long-term fallout of its Venezuela-like Marxist economic system than from the immediate effects of the hurricane.
Puerto Rico managed to rack up more debt than its economic output long before Hurricane Maria. A huge 43 percent of its residents received food stamps long before Hurricane Maria. And 26 percent of Puerto Rican workers were employed by government and also receiving 30 days of vacation long before Hurricane Maria.
The bottom line is that there is no reason why the American people should be on the hook for throwing good money after bad money before Puerto Rico cleans up the systemic government corruption and socialism that existed before the natural disasters. Ideally, Puerto Rico should be given its independence, so it can prosper without any interference but also not rely on American welfare like a security blanket.
In the meantime, Congress should help Puerto Rico by repealing the 1920 Jones Act, which requires ships sailing within the United States to be built, owned, and managed by U.S. companies. It has hampered trade and imports for Puerto Rico by often doubling the cost of shipping.
Finally, there is the issue of the border. The true emergency we have is the invasion at our border, and neither party in Congress cares much about it. Not only does this bill fail to deal with that crisis, it explicitly bars the use of any defense funding for the border. Certainly, the GOP’s competing bill in the Senate will not contain this provision, but nor will Republicans push any legislation to fix the crisis by hiring more ICE agents, building more border infrastructure, or punishing sanctuary cities. Why is there no hell-fire rush from Mitch McConnell to treat that issue as a “must pass” before Memorial Day?
Many conservatives were concerned that President Trump would make the GOP the party of big spending. Turns out, for someone who is not known as a fiscal conservative, he sure is willing to cut spending more than GOP leaders in Congress.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.