The monster storm Sandy could not come at a worse time. A few weeks from now the president-elect (either this one or the next one) will be negotiating with Congress to try and resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff.”
That’s a coming together, a crashing really, of major financial issues. There’s the major spending cuts required by the Budget Control Act. Republicans are worried about Defense cuts and Democrats fear what will happen to domestic programs. On top of that there the Bush tax cuts will expire, meaning a major tax increase, and a jump in the payroll tax.
But if that crash is bad – it just got worse. In addition to solving the fiscal cliff before the end of the year, Congress will now have to figure out what the storm will cost.
Early estimates are that the damage from Sandy will be around $50 billion. Last year’s Hurricane Irene cost nearly $16 billion.
Just look at air travel. Some 14,000 flights have been cancelled and New York City’s LaGuardia is partly under water.
But how much will Congress be willing to spend on the Sandy recovery? How much is affordable?
The Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA has money for emergency response. For now.
But a senior House Democratic aide told Roll Call newspaper: “If there is multibillion-dollar damage, though, that would be something to consider in November or December, when the damages are known. Obviously that will start a debate about how to ‘pay’ for a supplemental, which is typically viewed as emergency and over-and-above the budget.”
That’s been an issue in previous disasters.
Republican Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has in the past called for disaster relief spending to be off set by other budget cuts. Will that still be the position for Sandy? Or will there suddenly be a recognition that this disaster is beyond any community or state’s resources.
One reporter posted on Twitter that he asked the Romney campaign for a clarification, but was given no answer.
However any discussion about disaster relief will likely be a part of the larger conversation about the fiscal cliff.
Two former U.S. Senators, New Mexico Republican Pete Domenici and Georgia Democrat Sam Nunn, wrote in The Washington Post today that once Election Day passes “attention will quickly turn to whether and how to avoid the ‘fiscal cliff.’”
But “likely opponents are people who believe the fiscal cliff provides their party with leverage to extract their desired outcome from the other side,” the two senators said. “This is effectively playing Russian roulette with global markets and the U.S. economy. No matter the results of November’s elections, neither side will achieve enough of a mandate to impose its will on the other party. Even those who believe their party is 100 percent right must take into account the reaction of the global markets while this game of political chicken plays out.”
Domenici and Nunn said the lame-duck Congress should find a resolution before the problem gets worse.
Of course looking at the destruction of Sandy, it looks like the situation is worse.
Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: email@example.com.