Voting Against Sandy Relief is the Only Moral Option

By: John Watts

When the House returns to session next week, one of the first items on the agenda will be whether or not a further $51 billion should be allocated to relief for Superstorm Sandy.  The President has already signed into law $9.7 billion to FEMA to pay for flood insurance claims resulting from the storm.  Sixty-seven Republican House members voted against that initial funding package.

Many of the Republicans who voted against the funds directed to shore up FEMA’s federal flood-insurance program cited that this came up for vote after the House voted for a “fiscal cliff” deal that did not actually cut any spending, but more accurately scaled back future spending increases.

The proposed relief package reportedly includes funds for pork-barrel projects that have nothing to do with Sandy relief, such as $150 million for Alaskan fisheries.  AMTRACK, the government subsidized-railroad which loses approximately $80 million a year selling $10.00 hamburgers, will receive $336 million from this bill.

Those Republicans should be lauded for their “no” vote, and they should not tolerate any criticism based on the prevailing media narrative that fiscal conservatives are “cold-hearted.”  On the other hand, they should coordinate their message: it is purely a matter of principle. On the issue of taxpayer subsidized federal insurance and disaster relief, the federal government has no business forcing taxpayers in other states unaffected by a natural disaster to pay for other citizens’ economic losses.

Many on the left would try to say that a principled position on this issue is callous or uncaring.  But the reality is that one cannot legitimately claim moral credit for using the coercive power of government to fund relief. That is not genuine charity – authentic giving by individuals coming together voluntarily through churches, non-profits, or simply on their own is charity.

Perhaps Davy Crockett put the point most succinctly when he spoke out against congressionally mandated forced giving to the widow of a naval officer:

“I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity.  Every member upon this floor knows it.  We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money …  We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much of our own money as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor.  I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

Congressmen are much wealthier than the average American today, but they could still not come up with the nearly $60 billion out of their own pocket asked for in the federal flood insurance bailout package.  On the other hand, if the federal government reversed the now entrenched pattern of appropriating large portions of Americans’ hard-earned incomes, the public at large would easily be able and eager to aid in relief on their own accord.

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