Obama's Criminal Negligence is the Biggest Disaster
September 8, 2011 • 12:58AM

President Obama is guilty of criminal negligence when it comes to protecting Americans from, and helping them recover from, disasters. The administration hasn't asked for a supplemental funding request for disaster relief and recovery since February of 2010, despite the fact that, according to the senate Appropriations Committee, Obama has designated disasters in 47 states, including Hurricane Irene, since January 2011. These include unprecedented flooding on the Mississippi and other rivers in the Midwest, devastating tornadoes in the South and wildfires in the South and West. According to the Commerce department, there have been 10 natural disasters causing over one billion dollars in damage this year, the most since 1980, yet Obama has allowed the disaster relief fund to shrink to its current level of $592 million, hardly enough, as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) pointed out, yesterday, to deal with the flooding in New Jersey, last week, much less the needs of the rest of the country.

Today, the full Senate Appropriations Committee met to mark up the Homeland Security bill, as well as the Agriculture and Energy, and Water Development bills, both of which also contain significant disaster recovery funding. The lack of leadership from the White House was evident, as senators on both sides of the aisle flailed around, trying to figure out how to address disaster recovery needs within the straitjacket of their brilliant debt ceiling deal, which is already forcing sharp reductions in discretionary spending. The three bills, combined, provide an extra $5.5 billion for disaster recovery within the constraints of the debt deal, although, according to a statement issued by office of Management and Budget director Jack Lew last week, the deal allows for an extra $11.3 billion in total. Appropriations Committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hi.) specified that just because that's the case, doesn't mean the committee should provide the entire $11.3 billion, although it's clear that the need will far exceed what is allocated in the bills.

The real problem is the fascist debt deal, however. While there's tiny amount of extra money for disaster recovery, future disasters are likely to be made worse by the funding cuts in other areas, especially the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Civil Works program. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said that when Hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans, the flooding of the city was caused by 52 breaks in the federal levee system, and the water stayed for weeks, which is the same kind of flooding now being seen in Missouri, Vermont, and other places. The only way to fix this, she argued, is to fund the Corps sufficiently so that it can begin to address the estimated $60 billion in backlogged work that it has. "We cannot expect the Corps to do the work if we keep cutting their budget," she said.

As for the FEMA disaster relief fund (DRF), the Homeland Security bill allocates $6 billion, $4.2 billion more than Obama requested for it. Nobody on the committee thought this would be enough money, however. "This is a significant down payment and a place holder," Landrieu said, "to assure the victims of disaster that help is on the way." She implicitly criticized Obama for the "slow walking" of FEMA funding for disaster recovery projects in Louisiana, Missouri, and other states as a result of the low balance in the DRF. "The defunding of past projects to pay for current disasters is not acceptable," she said.