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Hurricane Irene Cleanup to Cost Billions—Will Republicans Demand Funds Come from Public Programs?

 
 
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 Hurricane Irene left a deadly path in its wake—over 26 people have died so far in eight states, including two children—and early estimates put the clean-up effort at anywhere between $9 billion and $20 billion in damages , owing to extreme flooding, downed trees, snapped power lines and other damages. That's not including economic losses incurred by everyone on the East Coast holing up in their homes for the weekend, but does factor in damage to homes. ABC News, on the insurance end of things:

Downed trees and other wind damage could total about $5 billion in personal claims, while flood damage could total about $2 billion in claims, according to a statement released by the Consumer Federation of America. The figure is significantly lower than that of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the statement noted.

"Because so many consumers experienced claims problems in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we urge homeowners dealing with losses caused by Hurricane Irene to be vigilant with their insurance companies to ensure that that they receive a full and fair settlement," the statement said.

However, as the Eastern Seaboard settles into the long cleanup and business of getting back to normalcy (including the reopening of several major airports and the shocking reinstatement of New York public transitas early as Monday, it's time to start worrying where the Republicans are going to propose ciphoning the clean-up money. On Saturday, Steve Benen noted that Eric Cantor's party wants to pull any emergency federal funds from public programs—further devastating the economy and social structure the country's been running on for the last hundred or so years:

 

Whereas Congress used to provide emergency funds after a disaster, without regard for budget caps or offsets, Republicans have said they will no longer accept such an approach -- if Democrats want emergency assistance in the wake of a natural disaster, Republicans will insist on attaching some strings to the relief funds.

In this case, the strings are cuts elsewhere in the budget. Or as Cantor's spokesperson put it, GOP leaders expect "additional funds for federal disaster relief" to be "offset with spending cuts." [...]

 

Cantor's office rejected questions about "hypothetical federal aid caused by hypothetical damage," despite the fact that the Majority Leader and his spokesperson were more than willing to discuss the position 24 hours earlier.

House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office was also cagey, saying policymakers will "discuss costs when and if they occur."

Neither Republican leader offered the correct response, which is, "Of course we'll do whatever it takes to help the affected communities."

So, while Vermont's historic bridgesfloated away, Staten Island homes were engulfed by what "looked like the ocean," and hundreds of thousands of residents in Massachusetts are still without power, the GOP stance has essentially been that average Americans should pay for costs out of pocket. (Meanwhile, rich people and corporations still aren't paying their fair share of taxes.)

Today, Talking Points Memo elaborates on the position of Cantor and his cronies... and provides a reason why the Republican position on federal funds, natural disasters, and further cuts to an already-decimated budget will, hopefully, fail:

 

Part of what made Republican victories in the shutdown and debt limit fights plausible was a logical veneer that doesn't exist here. "We spend too much money on government programs," Republicans basically argued, "so we won't fund the government unless we impose discipline." Another line was, in effect: "The national debt has skyrocketed, so we won't allow the government to incur more of it unless steps are taken to hold down its growth." When you drilled into these arguments, they crumbled, but at a glance they were quite plausible.

 

That's not the case after a natural disaster. And if there's a loud cry for federal aid once the damage is assessed, Cantor's position will probably prove unsustainable.

 

 Let's hope.

AlterNet / By Julianne Escobedo Shepherd

Posted at August 29, 2011, 4:02am

 
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