Governors in states affected by Hurricane Irene – two Democrats and two Republicans – are urging Congress to restore FEMA funding for disaster relief without delay. Govs. Chris Christie (R-NJ), Tom Corbett (R-PA), Bev Perdue (D-NC) and Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) made the statement.
“Federal assistance for the victims of storms and floods should be beyond politics,” the governors wrote Friday. “Our states’ governments and our citizens are doing their part to restore and rebuild. The federal government must also do its part.”
This gets at how the fight over disaster relief and appropriations doesn’t necessarily play the way that other Republican hostage-taking events play. First, Democrats have a precedent they want to preserve – that emergency funding for disaster relief never comes with offsets, as that would create a slippery slope of cuts in the middle of a budget cycle any time there’s a natural disaster.
Republicans tried to do away with a separate precedent on the FAA authorization, by adding policy riders into routine authorization extensions, but Democrats objected and Republicans had to recant. And that was a fight even further away from the public consciousness. As this bipartisan statement from both Dem and GOP governors shows, this fight is very real and happening in full view.
Second, the 1,000-foot view of getting money to disaster victims is very popular, and Democrats have a plausible way to leverage their position into that larger frame. Third, the public, having seen the debt limit fight, has a pre-made narrative about Republican hostage-taking; they could blame the GOP for any shutdown.
So there are several reasons for the seemingly rare spunk from the Democratic caucus, but they clearly feel they have a real advantage to play here. And they are fighting to protect a principle that should not be degraded. That’s why it’s more likely that the government shuts down than the Democrats back down. Of course the head honcho of the Democratic Party – the President – hasn’t stepped into this yet.