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Louisiana's Tea Party Congressmen Seek Flood Aid – After They Rejected Sandy Relief

Louisiana's Tea Party Congressmen Seek Flood Aid – After They Rejected Sandy Relief
Mon, 10/10/2016 - by Matt Higgins

The political ideology so fervently espoused, and practiced, by Tea Party Congresspeople from Louisiana could be the very thing that leaves their constituents – the people of Louisiana affected by recent flooding – without the means to rebuild their communities. A little ironic, don't you think?

Here's a little catch-up, for those who haven't been paying close attention:

In September, the state's congressional delegation, made up of seven Republicans and one Democrat, lobbied for federal aid to rebuild parishes inundated by heavy rains that led to massive flooding in August. Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards along with the Obama Administration requested more than $2.5 billion in aid from Congress to supplement aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. Edwards estimated the damage at $8.7 billion.

Congress returned to session after Labor Day and approved $500 million in assistance for Louisiana flood recovery. House majority whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said in a Sept. 22 statement, "The inclusion of grants for disaster relief in this must-pass legislation is a major victory for the people of south Louisiana who are struggling to get back into their homes after the devastating flooding that inundated our state."

Scalise's fellow Louisiana Republican, Sen. Bill Cassidy, echoed his comments, praising the relief as “a down payment” and “a good start.”

A little history here, please. Let's recall that Tea Party candidates surged into Congress with the mid-term elections of 2010, taking an absolutist position – and fanatical opposition – to increasing taxes and the federal deficit. In the years since, that ideology resonated with enough voters that moderate Republicans have been pushed further to the right, the U.S. government nearly defaulted on its debt in 2011, and was shut down temporarily in 2013. Tea Party supporters number highest in traditional red states, including the Solid South, which has voted consistently Republican in the post-Civil Rights era. Current Louisiana politics is an exemplar of this trend.

In 2013, when Scalise and Cassidy were members of the House, both men voted against the $50 billion aid package for New York following Superstorm Sandy. The decision didn't seem to hurt either politician's career. Scalise became majority whip in 2014, the same year that Cassidy was elected to his first term as U.S. Senator.

Republicans who voted against Sandy aid criticized some of the money in the bill by referring to it as “pork.” But when Scalise was asked whether he would support a bill this summer for Louisiana flood aid that included funding for other projects, he called the questions “hypotheticals about a bill that doesn’t exist.”

Scalise’s office did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Not so with New Jersey’s congressional delegation, which has called out the hypocrisy of their Louisiana colleagues' decision to vote against Sandy aid while ushering in massive disaster aid for their own state.

“I’ll have a Jersey moment with those guys, believe me,” New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell said, according to a NorthJersey.com article published in August. “But retribution has no place in politics. It’s petty politics when I’m being asked why help these people when these congressmen didn’t help you in your state.”

Now, despite early optimistic statements from the Louisiana congressmen, it turns out that securing the additional $2 billion in funding for their state may run into resistance from their own fellow Republicans in Congress. “We stand ready to help. The latest information, though, is that FEMA has plenty of money available,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers (R-Ky) said last month.

The $500 million aid that was finally agreed upon for Louisiana came at the 11th hour, after being held up following Democrats' demand for aid to residents of Flint, Mich., affected by the city’s contaminated water supply. On Sept. 28, the day before adjourning, Congress passed a bill that includes aid to both regions, and is expected to be signed by President Obama.

Gov. Edwards made it clear in a letter last month to the Obama administration that Louisiana requires supplemental funds in order to recover. "The need to provide federal assistance to help families and communities recover from these unprecedented level of flooding events is imperative," he said. He also asserted that people devastated by floods need to know that aid will be available to assist them.

The letter was signed by all of the Louisiana congressional delegation.

States with small delegations like Louisiana's have traditionally benefitted from their long-tenured representatives who use their knowledge and seniority to influence Congress on behalf of the state's constituents. Louisiana, however, aside from majority whip Scalise, has no congressmen in leadership roles and no members on the House Appropriations Committee. The state's senior senator, David Vitter, will be vacating his position at the end of the year, leaving Sen. Cassidy, with two years experience in the senate, as the senior senator of Louisiana.

Whether or not the state's Republican-led delegation is successful in obtaining funds after the November election remains to be seen. What is better known is that over the last six years, congressmen politically indebted to the Tea Party have repeatedly thwarted compromises on spending bills. Without the additional aid to Louisiana, state officials warn, those affected areas could see an exodus, resulting in damage to the state economy and, perhaps, enough of a reduction in population that Louisiana receives less representation in Congress.

And wouldn't that make for a fitting ending to a story about right-wing ideologues who swore off helping others in their time of crisis, but begged for federal support when it was their own people at risk?

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