Offsets and Disaster Relief

As we start to assess the devastation in Oklahoma, we will have to figure out much the reconstruction is going to cost.  Indeed, the aftermath of such natural disasters underscore one of the great benefits of modern government:  the ability to have the infrastructure in place to provide rapid response to the immediate disaster and to have the the capacity to deal with the aftermath on a mass scale.  Of course, these types of events require remarkable amounts of money, which raises the question of how to pay for the response.

Now, in this era of heightened concerns over budget deficits, paying for relief becomes a political matter (as we saw with Hurricane Sandy relief funds).

Along these lines, Roll Call‘s WGDB blog notes:  Coburn Wants Tornado Disaster Aid to Be Offset

Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., says he will insist that any federal disaster aid be paid for with cuts elsewhere.

CQ Roll Call reporter Jennifer Scholtes wrote for CQ.com Monday evening that Coburn said he would “absolutely” demand offsets for any federal aid that Congress provides.

On the one hand, Coburn is a deficit-hawk and he is being consist, even in the face of devastation in his state.  On the other, this makes me think of the Emerson quote:  ” A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.”

Like with Sandy relief, it strikes me that if there was ever a time for Congress to authorize spending and not allow it to get caught up in deficit politics, it is at a moment of national tragedy.  It is one of the fundamental functions of government (general welfare, and all that).

(Just a passing observation—no time for a more fully developed post).

FILED UNDER: Quick Takes, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. legion says:

    The motto of the Republican Party:
    “Money is More Important Than People”

  2. Geek, Esq. says:

    Don’t negotiate with terrorists. If he wants to hold his own state hostage, don’t cut Medicaid to appease him.

  3. DC Loser says:

    Let’s offset the disaster relief by taking it from what other items in the federal budget Oklahoma would have received from the federal government.

  4. john personna says:

    This should play out very differently in a post Reinhart and Rogoff world.

    Recently at Time:

    Justice aside, austerity is a failed economic concept, a realization that is having major short-term ramifications in Europe (as I’ll be exploring in more detail in an upcoming TIME magazine story). But it may also have a longer-term impact on the 2014 congressional and 2016 presidential elections in the U.S. For some time now, conservative economic policy has revolved around two ideas: the supposed need to slash government budgets in order to cut the deficit, and the notion that tax cuts will spur growth (a.k.a. trickle-down economics). But as we’ve seen in headlines over the past week, the deficit is coming down fast, not because of cuts, but because of a private-sector recovery that has put more tax dollars in federal coffers. If the current trends continue, the deficit will be about 2% of GDP by 2015, making it a nonissue for any presidential candidate.

  5. DC Loser says:

    You have to wonder about the people of Oklahoma (3rd largest receipient state of federal disaster aid) who election after election, send people like Coburn and Inholf to Washington DC to represent them. Maybe it’s time to tell them ‘tough luck, you’re on your own.’

  6. Moosebreath says:

    @john personna:

    “This should play out very differently in a post Reinhart and Rogoff world.”

    The operative word there is “should”. Unfortunately, Reinhart and Rogoff’s study, though discredited, in still treated as gospel by the Austerians.

  7. Lit3Bolt says:

    This is an outgrowth of the “economies are just like family budgets” mythology.

    As an example, it’s like if Grandma died and the family paid for the funeral, then decided Johnny and Laura shouldn’t go to college to “offset” the cost of Grandma’s funeral. The budget has been superficially balanced at the cost of investing in the future.

  8. Kari Q says:

    I have an fair amount of respect for Coburn; he at least seems sincere in his belief that cutting spending is always an unmitigated good. But in a situation like this, it’s just plain nuts.

  9. john personna says:

    @Moosebreath:

    I think conservative politicals are going to try to run this on autopilot, and to make they same old pro-austerity arguments, hoping no one will notice the changed world.

    Anyone who reads widely though knows that Ragoff and Reinhart’s defense failed, and they are out. They can get a room with Laffer now, and do the 3rd rate Republican publicity tours.

  10. Nikki says:

    I’m with DC Loser. Give Coburn what he wants, but take the offset from whatever other gov’t funds Oklahoma would have received and let the people of Oklahoma decide if they want to continue sending Coburn to Congress.

  11. Tony W says:

    I don’t pretend to know the demographics of Oklahoma, but if it is like most states the big, capital city is where any Democrats that might be bold enough to live there would be hunkered down. Coburn might get away with this.

  12. Dave says:

    At what point do we give disaster relief on the basis that the town will move. I know FEMA has withheld money for flood relief along the Mississippi in Wisconsin until the town agreed to move to a spot less likely to be flooded. It seems this isn’t the first tornado to roll through this town “The city of Moore was damaged by significant tornadoes on October 4, 1998, May 3, 1999, May 8, 2003, May 10, 2010, and May 20, 2013.” At what point do you cut your loses and say hey move 20 miles out of the way?

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I wonder if Coburn ever considered budgeting a specific amount every year to cover thew inevitable disasters?

    Naaaaaahhhhhhhhh……. That would be fiscally responsible as opposed to fiscally conservative.

    Or maybe it will occur to him that at a time when people all over the world want to give us money for free, this might be one of those times when we should?

    Naaaaaahhhhhhhh…. One would have to be fiscally intelligent to think that.

    @Kari Q:

    I have an fair amount of respect for Coburn; he at least seems sincere in his belief that cutting spending is always an unmitigated good.

    Sincerity gets a dangerous ideologue no points from me, much less any kind of respect.

  14. Moosebreath says:

    @john personna:

    “Anyone who reads widely though knows that Ragoff and Reinhart’s defense failed, and they are out.”

    That reminds me of Adlai’s Stevenson’s response to a person who said he’d have the support of every thinking person in the country, “But I need a majority!”

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Dave:

    At what point do you cut your loses and say hey move 20 miles out of the way?

    Seeing as one can not predict which direction a tornado is going to take while it is on the ground, I fail to see the efficacy of predicting the paths future tornadoes might take based upon where others have gone in the past.

    A tornado is not like a flood.

  16. john personna says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I read an article a year or two ago which basically said that tornado paths (within the “alley”) are random, and that statistically they should have hit more cities than they had. The warning was that a major tornado would hit downtown someday, and that damage would be horrific.

  17. Sam Malone says:

    Republicanists are so freakin’ stupid…hey, I know…let’s take the offsets from the NWS and NOAA and other forcasting agencies and scientists.
    It is worth mentioning this though…
    http://www.opposingviews.com/i/celebrities/sarah-palin-denies-global-warming-because-it-snowed-it-alaska
    What a pathetic group of people the Republicanists have become.

  18. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    They can get a room with Laffer now, and do the 3rd rate Republican publicity tours.

    It should be noted that Laffer was basically right in what he said. He’s not responsible for a bunch of loons highjacking his simple observation for political reasons.

  19. john personna says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    I think not. Laffer made a reasonable curve, but he was an active party in asserting our position on it.

    In fact he was the first to make the faulty argument that the existence of the curve implied our position was on the far side, and that tax produced declining returns in our real world.

    [His story is very similar to R&R’s in this regard, overstating his case bought him fame and fortune, for a time.]

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @Tony W:

    I don’t pretend to know the demographics of Oklahoma, but if it is like most states the big, capital city is where any Democrats that might be bold enough to live there would be hunkered down.

    I personally know all five registered Democrats in Oklahoma, and they all live in Tulsa.

  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @Kari Q:

    I have an fair amount of respect for Coburn; he at least seems sincere in his belief that cutting spending is always an unmitigated good.

    You know who else was sincere in his beliefs….?

  22. gVOR08 says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: In what way was Laffer right? He said there’s a point at which raising tax rates reduces revenue. That’s a trivial and well known observation. Economists estimate that rate is about 70%. So clearly we should raise taxes. Except that the point isn’t to maximize revenue, it’s to raise sufficient revenue.

  23. Will says:

    @DC Loser:

    Maybe rather than “tough luck”, we should say to them, “the only way to get the help you need is to send us better senators. Yours need a heart transplant.”

  24. Rafer Janders says:

    I eagerly await Bobby Jindal to denounce “sumthin’ caw-wulled tar-nay-duh mahnitorin’…..”

  25. Argon says:

    I’ll believe Coburn is serious if he *filibusters* any aid without offsets. Otherwise he’s just blowing smoke because he knows that his state will always get aid. It’s easy to be ‘principled’ when nothing is going to change.

  26. stonetools says:

    We get the representation we deserve, and Oklahomans deserve the morons they send to Washington. Glenn Thrush got grief last night for this observation:

    It is striking that Oklahoma’s senators are 1) a federal spending skeptic and 2) global warming denier

    Nobody who objected to it though, could deny it was true.
    If this were a just world, Oklahomans would get what they deserve-which is the same runaround the Northeast got when the reprepresentatives from Oklahoma and the Confederacy held up Hurricane Sandy relief. I’m hoping though that Obama and Congress will be merciful and speed aid their way.

  27. Gustopher says:

    Rather than playing this stupid, self-destructive game of denying disaster relief or cutting school lunches for it, we really should just move FEMA to a separate budget — funded by contributions of the states based on relative risk estimates and past claims, and then backed by the federal budget if it goes over.

    And if we aren’t going to be playing that stupid, self-destructive game — if we only do that when Democrats need the help — then we really need to rethink this system to take it out of the hands of idiots like Coburn.

    I’m sick of Republican takers.

  28. Sam Malone says:

    Oklahoma already takes $1.36 in Federal money for every $1.00 it sends to Washington.
    So all this fiscal hawk/offset nonsense is just that, nonsense.
    Coburn and Inhoffe are already welfare queens.
    This is all just more Republicanist political theater.

  29. beth says:

    Wow. What a shameful, politicized country we’ve become that a Senator would put out an official statement outlining his policy on disaster aid while they’re still pulling bodies out of the rubble. Just heartbreaking, really.

  30. gVOR08 says:

    Over at Balloon Juice, Betty Cracker has this covered better than I could. http://www.balloon-juice.com/2013/05/21/something-has-been-lost/

    A spokesman for the senator claimed that Coburn was merely being consistent about his position on federal disaster aid. That’s a lie: Mrs. Polly at Rumproast provides links to accounts of Coburn questioning and delaying disaster relief to other states while accepting funds for Oklahoma.

    Coburn is retiring after his current term: Maybe he’d be less quick to rush before the cameras to display his austerity plumage if he had to stand for another election. But I don’t think that’s necessarily true anymore. His real political masters, Koch Industries, et al, will applaud his haste to emphasize what’s really important in the face of a natural disaster, which is to keep corporate tax rates low and gut regulations on industries that contribute to extreme climate events.

    You, know, Republicans are right about one thing. Political correctness has gone too far. Coburn is an asshat and he should be called such to his face. And Inhofe is worse.

  31. PJ says:

    @Sam Malone:

    Oklahoma already takes $1.36 in Federal money for every $1.00 it sends to Washington.
    So all this fiscal hawk/offset nonsense is just that, nonsense.
    Coburn and Inhoffe are already welfare queens.
    This is all just more Republicanist political theater.

    New York and New Jersey, on the other hand, are net payers, so clearly they shouldn’t get any disaster relief money, since they cant handle their own money, they are, after all, giving it away…

  32. roger says:

    @Dave: So FEMA tells a Wisconsin town to move and yet New Orleans gets to stay right where they are despite its own geographical issues regarding natural disasters.

  33. anjin-san says:

    What do you even say to something like this? Perhaps the place to start with the cuts is Coburn’s salary, benefits, and pension.

    Of course Coburn was born into money, so his experience is a bit different than that of someone who is approaching retirement and is actually counting on the social security benefits that they have been paying into for decades.

  34. Moosebreath says:

    @john personna:

    In further reply, Krugman’s latest is right on point.

    “Yet calls for a reversal of the destructive turn toward austerity are still having a hard time getting through. Partly that reflects vested interests, for austerity policies serve the interests of wealthy creditors; partly it reflects the unwillingness of influential people to admit being wrong. But there is, I believe, a further obstacle to change: widespread, deep-seated cynicism about the ability of democratic governments, once engaged in stimulus, to change course in the future.

    So now seems like a good time to point out that this cynicism, which sounds realistic and worldly-wise, is actually sheer fantasy. Ending stimulus has never been a problem — in fact, the historical record shows that it almost always ends too soon. And in America, at least, we have a pretty good record for behaving in a fiscally responsible fashion, with one exception — namely, the fiscal irresponsibility that prevails when, and only when, hard-line conservatives are in power.”

  35. anjin-san says:

    Perhaps the solution is to acquiesce to Coburn’s demands, with the stipulation that, moving forward, the rest of the country will no longer export federal funds to Oklahoma – they will have to be neutral in terms of federal dollars.

  36. KansasMom says:

    @roger: Is that town in Wisconsin the main port that facilitates the commerce for the entire middle third of the country? Does that town in Wisconsin have a heritage and unique culture that dates back more than 400 years? The Dutch have figured this out, we can too.

  37. Sam Malone says:

    @ KansasMom…
    The Dutch have also figured out Healthcare…which we cannot.
    Well…we can…but the Republicanists don’t want to.

  38. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    In what way was Laffer right? He said there’s a point at which raising tax rates reduces revenue. That’s a trivial and well known observation. Economists estimate that rate is about 70%.

    Well, he proposed this, for non-Economists rather obscure and non-intuitive fact during the Nixon presidency. Guess where the top marginal tax rate was in 1974?

  39. PJ says:

    Jim Inhofe :

    “[Sandy aid] was totally different,” Inhofe said on MSNBC Tuesday morning. “They were getting things, for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there, they were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C. Everybody was getting in and exploiting the tragedy that took place. That won’t happen in Oklahoma.”

    F**k ***** **** ******** *** ******!!!!

  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: Top marginal rate was 70% in 1974, the number I threw out. I don’t recall Laffer had a number. This was down from 90% due to the Kennedy tax cuts. I’m pretty sure John Kennedy had never hear of Arthur Laffer. From WIKI, “The basic concept was not new; Laffer himself says he learned it from Ibn Khaldun and John Maynard Keynes.” The moral of this story is that Democrats know how, and when, to do supply side tax cuts. GOPs don’t.

  41. john personna says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    Google’s “ngram viewer” lets us see when “laffer curve” entered the vocabulary, and where it peaked: LINK

    The first incidence seems to be in about 1979, with a climb through the a 80’s, and a real second wind in the 90’s … before a crash in about 05.

  42. Kari Q says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    Okay, that was funny.