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Senate Vote: 4     Vote Date: Jan 28th, 2013

Issue:  H.R. 152, Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013. (Making supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2013, to improve and streamline disaster assistance for Hurricane Sandy, and for other purposes.)

Result:  Passed 66 to 32, 2 not voting (3/5 required). Became Public Law No: 113-2 (signed by the president 1-29-2013). GOP and Democrat selected vote.

Bill Summary: This supplemental appropriations bill authorized $60 billion for disaster relief agencies. It is comprised of Division A: Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013 and Division B: Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013.

Analysis: Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the federal government to provide state and local disaster aid.   At one time in our nation’s history, that was understood. In one of his most famous vetoes, President Grover Cleveland rejected the “Texas Seed Bill” on constitutional grounds. The bill would have provided minimal disaster assistance to a number of drought-stricken Texas counties.

On February 16, 1886, President Grover Cleveland delivered his veto message on the “Texas Seed Bill” to the House of Representatives. The following excerpt speaks to principles long ignored by today’s collectivist-oriented media:

“I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadily resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the Government, the Government should not support the people.

“The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.”

         Instead of asserting an unconstitutional responsibility to provide disaster aid, government’s main responsibility should be to get us out of the unconstitutional mess it has created.

False advertising

Putting aside the constitutional objections for a moment, let’s look at the massive $60 billion package itself. Although this package was pushed through the House in the name of providing urgent relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy, most of the spending (about 10 percent of the federal government’s likely domestic discretionary spending for the year) was anything but urgent. Moreover, the package was inflated to pay for other programs such as community development or modernizing Amtrak’s Northeast corridor having nothing to do with disaster relief.

After H.R. 152 had cleared the House, Heritage Action, the Establishment-recognized and necessarily shallow conservative advocacy group, called for a “no” vote in the Senate:

“The Senate will soon vote on the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013 (H.R. 152), which would provide $50.507 billion in “emergency” funding intended for disaster assistance for Hurricane Sandy relief.

“While Hurricane Sandy was a major disaster, the majority of the funds originally requested by the Obama Administration were to be spent beyond FY 2014.  Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that just 30% of the outlays in the House-passed bill would be spent over the next 20 months.  Even in 2021 estimated outlays are over a billion dollars.

“Furthermore, far too much of the funding goes toward superfluous programs that are not related to Hurricane Sandy relief, from repairs to the Smithsonian Institution to upgrades to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration airplanes to more funding for the federal government’s epic educational failure known as Head Start,  among myriad other extraneous items.  The inclusion of $16 billion in wasteful community development funds is also concerning, especially because the Department of Housing and Urban Development estimated it would need a comparatively much smaller $5.2 billion for its “unmet needs.”

         While the facts presented by Heritage Action are compelling, its limp-wrist conclusion that “using a natural disaster to spend more taxpayer money” proves “how irresponsible Washington has grown” irresponsibly understates and mischaracterizes the problem.

We have assigned (good vote) to the Nays and (bad vote) to the Yeas. (P = voted present; ? = not voting; blank = not listed on roll call.)