Nel's New Day

August 27, 2012

Cut Defense; Leave NOAA, FEMA, Safety Net Alone

The GOP convention was intended to be the big story for this week until Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) brought abortion and rape into the dialog and dug up the GOP’s position. The biggest story, however, is Tropical Storm Isaac which probably will become a hurricane before landfall somewhere in the Gulf Coast states.

Gov. Bobby Jindal cancelled his speech at the GOP convention to get back to Louisiana because of the threat to New Orleans, and Florida’s Gov. Rick Scott dropped out of the convention to protect his state. Nobody knows Isaac’s actual destination when it’s predicted to his land early Wednesday morning. Governors of Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana have started evacuations in their states and joined Scott in declaring emergencies.

The irony of the Isaac story is that Republicans have received early warning after trying to drastically cut funds for disaster preparedness and response. Their continuing resolution 2011 budget shrank funding for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Operations, Research, and Facilities by $454.3 million. The National Weather Service, part of NOAA, lost $126 million; FEMA dropped $24.3 million with FEMA state and local programs losing $783.3 million. Fortunately, this budget didn’t stick.

As part of last August’s Budget Control Act, Republicans agreed to make it easier to fund disaster relief but then reneged on this agreement. This isn’t new. Back in his 2009 response to the State of the Union, Jindal ridiculed the stimulus for having “$140 million for something called volcano monitoring.” Jindal is governor of a state that has hurricanes, not volcanoes. Not everyone else in the United States is in the same situation.

NOAA warned Congress that Republican cuts would stop them from warning people about hurricanes five to ten days out because of its aging satellites. Without the funding, the United States could go up to 18 months or even longer without any satellites.  If that were to happen, the Republicans might not know a hurricane is imminent for their 2016 convention.

Even when NOAA doesn’t want extra money for a project, Congress refused to allow them to make their activities more efficient. Last fall, when NOAA wanted to reorganize its existing climate capabilities and services into a “single point of entry” for users, Congress said no. NOAA cannot be permitted to “more efficiently and effectively respond to the rapidly increasing demand for easily accessible and timely scientific data and information about climate that helps people make informed decisions in their lives, businesses, and communities.”

The idea was that efficient, up-to-date information is important because of the likelihood of more droughts, floods, and storms; Republicans can’t admit that climate is changing. Since Congress turned down NOAA’s proposal, the organization has announced the last year and last half year are the hottest on record. The second half of this past June saw at least 170 all-time high temperatures either broken or tied. As of July 3, 56 percent of the contiguous U.S. experienced drought conditions, the largest percentage in the 12-year record of the U.S. Drought Monitor. During the June 2011-June 2012 period, each of the 13 consecutive months ranked among the warmest third of their historical distribution for the first time in the 1895-present record. The odds of this occurring randomly is 1 in 1,594,323.

When disastrous tornadoes hit Missouri, Republicans threatened to hold up any assistance until there were cuts in other places. The same for Virginia’s earthquake and the east coast’s Hurricane Irene.  A year ago House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) demanded that “that no more money be allocated for disaster relief unless it is offset by spending cuts elsewhere”—until he asked for FEMA money for his own district a month later.

If Republicans don’t get the FEMA aid that they request, they are angry. When FEMA refused a request for federal aid for wildfire victims in Oklahoma, Gov. Mary Fallin called a government agency’s rejection letter “bureaucratic” and “cruel.”

If anything is “bureaucratic” and “cruel,” it’s the Republicans’ refusal to allow states’ residents to get the health care from the federal government that costs the states nothing. Texas is a prime example: the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals has now upheld Texas’s decision to deny women any health care through Planned Parenthood or other clinic that simply makes referrals for abortions.  The court decision will deny health care to at least 50,000 women.

Texas has also refused to accept the federal money that would provide Medicaid for people with salaries between one-fourth of the poverty level and one and one-fourth of the poverty level. Because of Gov. Rick Perry’s arrogance and indifference, families making between $5,000 and $25,000 will not qualify for Medicaid or any other remedy from the Affordable Care Act. That’s bureaucratic and cruel.

If Republicans want FEMA help for people who need assistance, they need to allocate funds for it. They also need to revise their position in denying all people any safety net except the wealthy—who don’t need it. And they need to stop using their personal morality to control women.

Where can the government get the money to help people? Defense expenditures went from $583.38 billion in 2003 when we were in two wars to $711.42 billion in 2011 when we were no longer in war. About a half century ago, Dwight Eisenhower said, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” We are now living in Eisenhower’s nightmare.

If Republicans want small government, they should start with the defense budget. Support the programs that actually help people, such as the safety net and NOAA.

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