Hurricane watch: GOP would hobble disaster relief

    As Isaac careens toward the Gulf Coast, the Republicans in Tampa have a golden opportunity to remind TV viewers that, if the GOP had its way, the federal government would be less prepared to handle the looming disaster.

    With Isaac footage on the split screen, what an opportune time this would be for the party to parade its conservative principles! Seriously, why not remind the American people that Republicans are virtually united in their belief that the money for federal disaster relief should be severely slashed? Why not share this core tea-party conviction with the folks at home?Come on, Republicans, show the voters who you really are. At your convention, say it loud and say it proud: You don’t believe that Washington should play a major role in helping Americans when they need help most, in the aftermath of natural disasters that lay waste to homes, schools, hospitals, roads, and bridges. You don’t believe in giving the Federal Emergency Management Agency the requisite tools to do the job. And you don’t even believe in giving the Army Corps of Engineers the requisite money to do flood prevention.It’s too bad, in a way, that Isaac won’t be hammering Tampa, because the same tea-partying delegates who believe in slashing FEMA would’ve been desperately praying for a robust FEMA to come save their butts. That would’ve been one delicious scenario. But since the Republicans will not be physically affected by Isaac, they are free to voice their hostilities toward federal disaster programs. For instance, it’s a shame Ron Paul won’t be speaking – he says the Romney people wanted to control his message – because, if left unfettered, he could’ve reiterated his August ’11 demand that FEMA be abolished. As he remarked a year ago, FEMA is “a system of bureaucratic central-economic planning,” and it’s time for citizens to “transition out of the dependency on the federal government.”That’s a tad strong for most Republicans, but the reality is that Republicans have been trying to hobble FEMA for years. George W. Bush famously did his best to wreck FEMA prior to Katrina, of course, by appointing Michael “Heckuva Job, Brownie” Brown to helm the agency – a fascinating choice, given the fact that Brownie had managed no disasters while helming the International Arabian Horse Association.With Isaac barreling along in the Gulf, I doubt that anyone on stage will bring up Bush and Brownie, especially since Bush has attained the status of He Who Shall Not Be Named. But since veep pick Paul Ryan is slated to be the marquee speaker on Wednesday night, why not stand on principle and remind viewers that the various Ryan budgets in the Republican House envision deep cuts in federal emergency preparedness? How about highlighting the fact that Ryan-led Republican efforts have slashed FEMA grants by 43 percent since 2010 – which translates into $1.8 billion in less money for training, evacuation supplies, and communications equipment for first responders?Or the fact that House Republicans have forced a 21 percent cut in the Army Corps of Engineers construction budget – the same agency that has built a new flood wall to protect New Orleans from the worst of Isaac?Or the fact that last summer, in the wake of the damage wrought by the east coast earthquake, House Republican leader Eric Cantor insisted that any new FEMA emergency spending had to be offset by cuts in other domestic programs – a radical break from the bipartisan tradition that exempted disaster aid from the partisan budget process? Why not tell the swing voters at home that Republicans finally decided to OK the new emergency spending – but only if the money could be swiped from a successful federal loan program that encouraged the production of hybrid vehicles? Yes, how great it would be to have a split screen: Isaac battering the coastline, while Republicans recount their principled efforts to slash federal disaster programs. Since they sincerely believe that Washington should do a lot less to help devastated communities, and a lot less to help citizens left homeless by hurricanes, tornadoes, and floods, why not devote some of that valuable podium time to the parading of their true selves? But they won’t. And we know why.——-Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1

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