In October 2012 Hurricane Sandy struck the northeast with three to nine-foot storm surges in New York and New Jersey. Damage was immense to homes, businesses, coastal resort areas, hospitals and roadways. Water surged through lower Manhattan, severely damaging subways and roadway tunnels in New York City. Millions were left without electricity. The enormity of devastation and urgent need for funds to address both the immediate losses and damages prompted the Governors of New York and New Jersey and their respective congressional delegations to call on the federal government for assistance.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Congress responded quickly to provide emergency funding. But the suffering of New York and New Jersey residents was insufficient for a similar response. An increase in the flood insurance program of $9.7 billion became law on January 6, 2013. However, the bill for disaster relief aid was not enacted until January 29, 2013. That was more than 3½ months after the hurricane occurred.
The Senate approved the latter bill by a vote of 62-36 with 9 Republicans joining their Democratic colleague. The House passed the bill 241-180, 49 Republicans joining with 192 Democrats. One Tennessee Democrat joined 179 Republicans voting against the measure. All Texas Republicans, except Representative John Culberson, whose district includes parts of Houston, voted against providing Sandy relief funds. The Republicans stated their primary reason for opposition to the bill was its size and impact on the federal deficit. This was a time when fiscal responsibility was required. Texas Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn were two of the more outspoken Republican opponents. They complained the bill included “extraneous” money for items unrelated to disaster relief. Senator Cruz went further, labeling two-thirds of the bill as “Pork.”
On February19, 2013 the Congressional Research Service issued a detailed report, “FY2013 Supplemental Funding for Disaster Relief.” It analyzed how the supplemental funds were to be utilized, which directly countered Senator Cruz’ assertion. Some were not Sandy or Sandy related items. But the greatest percentage of funds was designed to provide relief for Sandy related damage or to take steps to mitigate damage from future hurricanes. No objective observer could describe the bill as replete with “Pork.”
Fast forward to August 2017. Forecasters expected record amounts of rain and flooding from Hurricane Harvey to cause massive amounts of property and economic damage. Before the hurricane made landfall, Senators Cruz and Cornyn sent a letter to the President urging him to make the major disaster declaration requested by Texas Governor Greg Abbott so that key federal resources could be put in place as quickly as possible. It seems the two Senators no longer felt it necessary to exercise fiscal responsibility. The other Texas Republican representatives who refused to support the Sandy effort joined in their abandonment of fiscal responsibility.
Attempting to project himself as someone who “enthusiastically and emphatically” supported the Sandy relief effort, Cruz resurrected his since disproven claim. He could not do so, he said, because the Senate bill “was filled with unrelated pork. Two-thirds of that bill had nothing to do with Sandy.” But after studying details of the Congressional Research Report, the Washington Post and USA Today strongly refuted that argument.
Hypocrisy is defined as a feigning to be what one is not, or to believe what one does not. It is behavior that contradicts what one claims to believe or feel. A hypocrite is one who engages in hypocrisy. By that definition, one can readily conclude that Cruz, Cornyn and all but one of the Texas Republican Representatives are hypocrites. They claim to be fiscal conservatives, concerned about spending and its impact on the federal deficit. But apparently, those principles apply only when that spending is to improve someone else’s backyard. Impact on the deficit is not important when it’s your house under water. Their principles seem to move in concert with the words of a commonly used metaphor. “It depends upon whose ox is being gored.” They look differently at the same event when their own self-interests are involved.
This is not a reason to prevent relief funds from flowing to victims of Hurricane Harvey or the later, Hurricane Irma. On the contrary, those funds are desperately needed and should be expended by the federal government. But we must ask what the hypocritical actions of these Texas Congressmen mean for us as a country? Where is the notion that we are one country and all in this together? That when disaster hits people in one section of the country, others will come to their aid.
I remember September 11, 2001 and the incredible loss of life that occurred in New York, Washington and a field in Pennsylvania. It was a terrible shock to our psyche but people came from everywhere to help in any way they could. President George Bush stood and spoke passionately atop the rubble of crumpled steel and debris of the World Trade Center in New York City. He united the country. And yet, sixteen years later, that unity is gone and we are a house divided. We have lost the civility to speak to one another and respect the other person’s viewpoint. We have lost the ability to disagree without being disagreeable.
What does it mean that we are the United States of America? What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States? What are the obligations of a citizen of the United States and what are the obligations of the United States to its citizens? These are not frivolous questions but ones that need to be answered. Until they are, it will be difficult to achieve the unity of purpose we desperately need and cannot afford to lose?
In this respect, I refer you to the last public speech by Patrick Henry, a Founding Father of the United States, in March 1799. He said, “Let us trust God, and our better judgment to set us right hereafter. United we stand, divided we fall. Let us not split into factions which must destroy that union upon which our existence hangs.”
It should prompt us to take to heart a message conveyed decades later by French author Alexandre Dumas. In his novel, The Three Musketeers, he introduces the phrase, “All for one and one for all.”