Some anti-big government conservatives are being put to the test

rock-and-a-hard-placeCongressman Scott Garrett is stuck between a rock and a hard place: His conservative, small-government principles and the constituents who face hardships in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. A Politico story from Sunday makes the point succinctly:

Rep. Scott Garrett (R-N.J.) was one of just 11 votes against Katrina aid in September 2005. And eyebrows went up when Garrett’s signature was missing from a Nov. 1 letter from New York, New Jersey and Connecticut lawmakers in support of disaster aid.

Then again, perhaps there really are no atheists in foxholes.

Questioned by POLITICO, Garrett’s office said any split was exaggerated and forwarded two Nov. 3 letters the congressman had sent days later to Christie and Obama seeking aid for three counties in his district.

“Thank you for your attention to this matter, and for your critical assistance to the people of New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy,” Garrett signed off in his appeal to Obama.

As the Politico story points out, after all the praise and photo ops, the Obama administration’s response to Hurricane Sandy has been nothing compared to what was offered up post-Hurricane Katrina. It leaves you wondering if Governor Chris Christie had fallen into the same trap as the Nobel Prize Committee: Lavishing praise on President Obama before he had the opportunity to actually earn it.

When Katrina came ashore in 2005, it was met by a solid phalanx of Gulf state Republicans with immense power over the machinery of federal appropriations. In the span of 10 days, a $51.8 billion aid package cleared Congress and was signed by President George W. Bush, a Texan himself and red-faced over his administration’s response to the storm.

Nothing remotely like this has happened in the month since Hurricane Sandy - in part because of post-Katrina reforms. But the Northeast’s damage estimates keep mounting: the latest from New Jersey on Friday evening was $29.4 billion. The White House is drafting a supplemental aid request. Pressure is growing for action before the new year.

…With Washington already facing a fiscal crisis, it’s not the easiest time to come looking for emergency aid. Then again, New Jersey and New York typically send far more tax revenue to Washington than they get back in federal spending. So getting them up and running can be a plus for deficit reduction.

In the short run at least, the federal response is helped by post-Katrina reforms adopted in the 2011 Budget Control Act, which established a reserve fund for FEMA to tap without waiting for Congress. That said, the total sum for this fiscal year is just $11.4 billion, and as a practical matter, federal agencies like FEMA and the Corps have only the first half available to them.

That pot is down to about $5.6 billion as of last week. And the remaining $5.4 billion of the $11.4 billion can’t be released until another vote by Congress. Early indications are that the administration’s draft supplemental will want this much - and more.

Katrina was very different in that Congress rushed out with the $51.8 billion six-page bill in early September 2005 and then began reallocating these appropriations - and adding more - in two more detailed bills in December 2005 and then June 2006.

In October of that year, for example, the Bush White House submitted a $17.1 billion aid request, drawing down from the September bill. Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) moved to double this to $35.5 billion, and Congress ultimately approved close to $29 billion in December.

The storm’s aftermath seems to have shaken some Republicans out of their ideological clothing, with some suggesting that the fit wasn’t all too good in the first place. (Certainly not the case with Congressman Garrett) There is always the rush to react to a defeat and this year’s reaction mirrors that of 2008, when many in and outside the beltway insisted that conservative America was over and the GOP would henceforth have to be a moderate party in order to survive. That’s happening again with some pointing to the loss of 8 House seats and 2 Senate seats (and ignoring the gain of a Governor) while they suddenly forget the 63 House seats, 6 Senate seats, and 6 Governors Republicans gained in 2010.

Let’s not forget that without the conservative resurgence two years ago, none of that would have been possible. If we had followed those “moderate” pundits, we would almost certainly not control the House.

Keep your heads, don’t do anything rash, and remember that the exit polls still indicate (even in 2012) that this is a right-of-center country.

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