• WisPolitics
1/15/2013

How will Wisconsin congressional Republicans vote on new Sandy aid?

By Bill Kaplan

The column below reflects the views of the author, and these opinions are neither endorsed nor supported by WisOpinion.com .

Wisconsin congressional Republicans, blinded by ideological fervor, heedless of growing evidence of climate change, and in some cases fearful of Tea Party primary challenges, blindsided fellow Americans with their votes against Superstorm Sandy aid. It was as if the 2012 presidential campaign was still on and President Obama had not won a clear victory (Obama's popular vote of 51.06 per cent was the first time since President Eisenhower won in 1956 that an incumbent president got more than 51 per cent twice). And, it reminded all Americans of Mitt Romney's response to natural disasters: canned food drive and a call to privatize the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Moreover, it is a wake-up call about Wisconsin GOP Representative Paul Ryan's budgets: eviscerate FEMA!

Here are the facts. Superstorm Sandy bludgeoned the Northeast. New Jersey, New York and Connecticut got the worst. The cost in damage-destroyed infrastructure and homes is many billions of dollars. Over a hundred died. The late October storm, with hurricane force winds and extreme coastal flooding, may be related to climate change. The Senate voted in late December for a $60 billion aid package - 62 yes, including 12 GOP senators, and 32 no. Outgoing Wisconsin Democratic Senator Herb Kohl voted yes and Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson voted no. House GOP Speaker John Boehner promised to allow a vote, but then reneged. The reaction from Northeast Republicans was volcanic. Boehner quickly reversed course. The new 113th Congress approved $9.7 billion to allow FEMA to pay claims for those who had federal flood insurance. The vote was 354 yes, including most Republicans, and 67 no (the Senate concurred by voice vote). Wisconsin Democratic Representatives Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Mark Pocan voted yes. But incredibly Wisconsin GOP Representatives Sean Duffy, Tom Petri, Paul Ryan and James Sensenbrenner voted no (Reid Ribble did not vote). It was a black mark against them as well as a new low in extremism and hypocrisy, but not the first time.

Back in the late 1990s Petri and Sensenbrenner voted against disaster relief for flood victims in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Shortly afterward, torrential rainfall and flooding ravaged southeastern Wisconsin. Petri and Sensenbrenner clamored for flood relief. And, in 2005 Sensenbrenner even voted against Hurricane Katrina aid, saying the bill lacked "accountability". Later in 2007 Petri, Ryan and Sensenbrenner called for "full public assistance to help Wisconsin communities devastated by severe flooding...to rebuild public infrastructure such as dams, roads and bridges ..." So it goes.

Ryan says he voted against the $9.7 billion flood insurance aid because of "pork" (there was none) and because the flood insurance program needs to be reformed. But the aid was for folks who had existing flood insurance coverage! The House is supposed to take up more necessary Sandy aid on Tuesday. Some extreme GOP members plan to kill it. Will Wisconsin Republicans do the right thing and help fellow Americans? Hypocrisy is not pretty.

-- Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, DC for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 - 2009.

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