As residents of Louisiana this week struggle to recover from "one of the worst floods in modern history," there is a chance that federal aid may not be so forthcoming thanks to a trio of Bayou State Republicans, who back in 2013 voted against helping victims of another storm: Sandy.
House majority whip Rep. Steve Scalise, Rep. John Fleming, and Sen. Bill Cassidy all cast their votes against the $50.5 billion relief package because of their dogmatic adherence to austerity economics. At the time, Scalise said, "Paying for disasters and being fiscally responsible are not mutually exclusive."
But, as Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik and others noted this week, that decision may come to haunt them.
"No one is saying that the flood-stricken communities of Louisiana don't deserve all the assistance that the U.S. government can provide them," Hiltzik wrote. "But so did the residents of the Sandy zone. How do the lawmakers' 2013 votes to deny relief to those Northeast communities square with their demand for emergency flood assistance now?"
All three signed onto a letter sent to President Barack Obama earlier this month calling for a disaster declaration and requesting "that vital federal resources be made available in an expedited manner."
Though that aid has already been appropriated, the damages are extensive and will likely require supplemental funding from Congress.
"That extra money is going to be needed to cover costs that aren't met by insurance and to provide for other needs, such as providing vouchers to contractors who can gut houses," The Advocate's Jeff Adelson reports. "But its availability is dependent on the willingness of lawmakers to go along with the plan, something that's hardly a sure thing."
Gov. John Bel Edwards' office has estimated 60,646 houses were damaged and 30,000 people rescued; other people escaped on their own. The [Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)] says 109,398 people or households have applied for housing help, and 25,000 National Flood Insurance Program claims have been filed.
In a Tuesday op-ed, Louisiana Public Service commissioner Foster Campbell, who is running to replace Republican Sen. David Vitter, pulled no punches in laying blame on the GOP lawmakers.
"[I]f Congress denies Louisiana the aid funds necessary for recovery, it will be because some of our own congressional delegation turned their backs on the victims of Hurricane Sandy," Campbell said. "Our 'leaders' have forgotten that their actions have consequences beyond election day—they've abandoned common sense priorities for our people to promote the political message of the day."
Not only are Scalise, Fleming, and Cassidy purveyors of "extreme, tea party ideology,"—as Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu, who lost to Cassidy in 2014, put it at the time—they are also, as Hiltzik wrote
climate change deniers, a sign that they're unable to process evidence in front of their own eyes. Fleming has claimed that evidence of climate change is the product of a "radical environmental agenda." Scalise has griped that it's an effort by radicals "to prop up wave after wave of job-killing regulations that are leading to skyrocketing food and energy costs." Cassidy in 2014 claimed that global temperatures had not risen in 15 years, which happened to be untrue. Remarkably, both Fleming and Cassidy are medical doctors.
As for how the Republicans reconcile their vote on the Sandy package with their current demands for assistance, T.J. Tatum, a spokesman for Scalise, told Hiltzig that the relief claims amount to "Apples and oranges."