Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Federal Disaster Aid Dilemma

House Republicans were recently slammed--including by other Republicans--for delaying a vote on the $60 billion SuperStorm Sandy aid package. Two NJ Star-Ledger columnists zeroed in on this issue--Paul Mulshine and Tom Moran. Mulshine chided Republicans for their delay, singling out GOP Rep. Darrell Issa:

   Many people are under the mistaken impression that the flood insurance program is some sort of a giveaway. In fact the premiums are high and the payouts are low, capped at a mere $250,000 per homeowner. It’s true the program should be reformed, but the feds have an obligation to back the policies that they required so many people to purchase.   Much of the rest of the aid is provided under the Stafford Act, which funds disaster recovery. Again, if people like Issa wanted to repeal that act, they should have done so before their states cashed in on it.

Mulshine's point is that the disaster relief programs are in place, and New Jersey residents have been taxed for years to fund them. Overall, he says, "Many of the [NJ] counties [affected by Sandy] send more money to Washington than some entire states do. But when it comes to getting a few bucks back, the rest of country suddenly turns into tightwads." Moran made a similar point, noting that "New Jersey gets 55 cents back for every $1 paid in federal taxes."

This is another example of the insidious nature of the welfare state. It's a widening trap. People who have been forced to pay into these disaster relief programs feel justified in cashing in, which is understandable. Of course, where each person's needle points on the moral compass is determined by whether he supports or opposes such programs. 

It's a particular moral dilemma for politicians who oppose such programs on principle, but who must, as Moran puts it, not lose "sight of the fact that his job during a crisis like this is to help his constituents recover." Moran was referring to NJ Republican U.S. Rep. Scott Garrett, who must choose between the best interests of his constituents and adherence to his principles. 

Garrett voted against federal aid for Hurricane Katrina, and says he may vote against Sandy aid, based upon his belief that disaster relief charity should be a private affair. Moran, a "liberal," is particularly vicious,    labeling Garrett "nuts," and saying:

   Garrett is an ideologue in the worst sense. He is ineffective in Congress because he doesn’t make deals, and is driven wholly by his messianic drive to shrink government.
   If he were running the show, the rich would have kept all their tax breaks, but millions of unemployed people would be getting no benefits today. He voted against the extension.   The elderly would be getting no help buying prescription drugs. He opposed that, too.   The banks would have been allowed to collapse, and the recovery from the recession would be left to the magic of the market without a dime in stimulus spending.   Even disaster aid would be left to the private sector. 

These two columns by Mulshine, a conservative, and Moran--who agree about the vote on the aid package but for entirely different reasons--point up the difficulty of attacking the welfare state politically, before a proper ideological foundation has been laid.

I left these comments to the Moran column:

I agree with Garrett's goal, but not with his method. I agree with Mulshine's point from 1/3: The time to oppose federal disaster aid is not when people are suffering and counting on programs that are already in place and for which they've paid into.

But federal disaster aid like flood "insurance," Stafford, and FEMA should be phased out over time and ended in a way that honors promises already made while giving people time to adjust (or re-adjust) to a system of private insurance, self-responsibility, mutual aid, and voluntary private charity. A free, right-respecting society is one that doesn't allow phony do-gooders to use the government as a hired gun to seize and redistribute the wealth of one's fellow citizens in the name of "helping" disaster victims. The issue is not helping or not helping. The issue is moral vs. immoral means. There is nothing moral or compassionate about denying people the right to make their own choices in regard to charity. Like all welfare-state programs, Federal disaster aid is built on legalized theft.

If anyone has a "messianic drive," it is the "progressive" Left in its relentless determination over the past century to expand the government's control over Americans' lives. It is no surprise that Moran portrays Garrett as a "lone wolf." That is the way collectivists see people in a free society, where human economic and personal associations are voluntary rather than coerced by government. And that is the way the Left smears anyone who dares to stand up to their messianic big-government zeal.

Cutting off government "benefits" in mid stream will never be a winning strategy. People orient the planning of their lives around them. A thoughtful process of explicit philosophical education and advocacy coupled with concrete long-range phaseout planning for the welfare state is the way to go. Politically, it's the only way. The Left relentlessly hammered home their collectivist/altruist ideals, decade after decade, while piece-mealing us ever farther along the fascist road to socialism. To turn the country around, it will take the same kind of intestinal philosophical fortitude and determination, coupled with step-by-step advances toward individual rights and capitalism, from the Right.

Elections will be lost along the way, for sure. But a loss without philosophical compromise is a step forward--an educational process creating a chance to build for future electoral success--which, when it comes, will have been won on explicit pro-freedom ideas. The ideological foundation for substantive pro-freedom legislation will have been laid.  Elections won on pragmatic grounds are hollow victories which, when they come, will leave the winners with no grounds to advance any pro-freedom legislative agenda. Upon what will the winners justify it, after they have abandoned the principles they will need when they take office?

Until the philosophical base has been laid, the Scott Garretts of the world will continue to twist in the wind, with no practical hope of being anything but, in Moran's words, "ineffective in Congress."

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