Here's the story: In June, House Republicans passed the 2012 Homeland Security appropriations bill, which included an amendment adding $1 billion to the Disaster Relief Fund of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). In a sensible move for taxpayers, the amendment offsets this new disaster funding by cutting spending on the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. This may ring a bell with readers as the funding conduit for one of Washington's adventures in crony capitalism.So the Democrats are trying to block cuts in money to go to a company so that it can build electric cars (that few Americans seem to want to buy) in Joe Biden's home state.
In 2009, the Department of Energy announced that it would loan more than half a billion dollars through this program to a California-based company, Fisker Automotive, to make luxury electric cars. About a month after the loan package was conditionally approved, CEO Henrik Fisker and Joseph Biden appeared in the Vice President's hometown of Wilmington, Delaware to announce that Fisker would now be making some of its cars at the city's old General Motors factory.
One reason the House bill has less funding for Democratic priorities is because, even before the hurricane, Republicans had decided that the President's budget didn't have enough money for the Disaster Relief Fund. So they funded it at $850 million above the President's request. Then as they realized that the damage in places like Joplin, Missouri would put additional strain on the fund, the GOP added the amendment that provided still more disaster assistance and cut funding for Mr. Biden's beloved electric cars.But making choices and tradeoffs is something the liberals never seem to want to do. They'd prefer to mischaracterize and demagogue. It's all part of never letting a disaster go to waste, but it's not about actually finding a way to best spend limited federal resources. They'd prefer to just close their eyes and pretend that those resources are unlimited if only the greedy GOP would allow them to tax more rich people.
The White House hasn't asked for more funding, though White House budget director Jacob Lew wrote to lawmakers Thursday suggesting it could be well north of $5 billion. But so far Mr. Cantor is being blamed for opposing disaster relief because he has been trying to spend more than the President, and to place that above other spending priorities.
By the way, this political theater is having no impact on victims in need of help. The MSNBC gang may like to pretend that Mr. Cantor is stealing blankets from homeless flood victims, but the Washington debate is largely about funding for construction projects that may be years in the future.
Yes, FEMA has warned that its disaster fund is running low, a warning it issues almost annually. And the agency has said it won't approve new municipal construction projects until it gets more funding. But rebuilding, for example, a bridge in Vermont likely couldn't happen for months or years anyway as the locals debate designs, approve plans and conduct environmental reviews. The agency's emergency assistance—water and generators, or money for new windows or clothing—continues without interruption.
To have any hope of controlling spending, Congress has to make choices. That means having the fortitude to give up more corporate welfare to finance more urgent disaster relief.