Funding FEMA in Congress and the Irene Example

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Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, U.S. Congresswoman Nan Hayworth (R-NY-19), a co-chair with U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-NJ 8th) of the Hurricane Irene coalition in Congress, discusses ongoing budget negotiations in Washington. Then, Representative Pascrell, who serves on the House Budget Committee and is a member of the Committee on Ways and Means, gives his take on how the federal government can fund FEMA for disaster relief and overcome another looming budget impasse. Plus both react to NJ Governor Christie's decision not to run for president.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Democrat Bill Pascrell of the Paterson area and New York Republican Nan Hayworth of Upper Westchester to Poughkeepsie are the co-chairs of the bipartisan Hurricane Irene Congressional Coalition, which seeks to ensure that FEMA has adequate funding to help all those affected by the storm.

Last week government flirted with another shutdown over funding FEMA, though whether the solution will hold for the long-term remains to be seen. Last week FEMA found that it had adequate funding for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, averting the shutdown. Congress, in turn, provided for the agreed-upon $2.65 billion in baseline funding for FEMA for fiscal year 2012, which began last weekend.

The near shutdown came out of a disagreement between Republicans who wanted to pair the FEMA money with cuts to green energy initiatives, such as electric cars and solar energy, and Democrats who objected to such a pairing.

What Happened: The Republican Take

Hayworth said she “absolutely” agreed with the Republican provision.

Look at Solyndra. The federal government simply isn’t good at choosing commercial investments, nor should it be necessary for the federal government to do so. It is unfortunately usually a blatant waste of taxpayer dollars.

On the other side, people worry that the United States needs to stay competitive with countries like China, who are investing in alternative energy development.

Hayworth said the agreement reached last week does not mean that the committee’s work is done. While Hayworth said all the counties she serves have full disaster designation for Hurricane Irene and for Tropical Storm Lee, she said the committee has long-term goals as well.

We want to repair and replace better wherever feasible, so we’re working to put together a meeting, for example, between the Army Corp of Engineers and New York State’s DEC, so that we can improve drainage of the Wallkill River. Our farmlands in Western Orange County in the black-dirt region were devastated by Hurricane Irene, and those floodwaters remained for days longer than might have been the case had we had effective drainage. This is a problem that was brewing for years that has to be solved.

A recent Gallup poll found Congressional approval ratings are at 15 percent approval, 85 percent disapproval— a step up from the findings of the latest CBS News and Fox News polls, which both found an 11% approval rating for Congress.

Hayworth said that discontent is due to the economy.

We have a federal government right now that sits on our economy like a stone. It does not need to be that way, so this is an expression of frustration which I fully share.

She said that Christie’s allusion to New Jersey working better than Washington was fair.

I think there has to be a spirit of comity, no question… I think there has to be sincere effort to build a consensus… We have enormous opportunities for common ground with the Senate and with the president, and I would contend that the president, unfortunately, has assiduously ignored some of those areas.

Hayworth denied that the Republicans might be uncooperative, saying that representatives are simply defending the interests of their constituents. .

There is absolutely a spirit of cooperation. And yes… I prefer cooperation, everybody wins in that case. We will not, on either side, I am sure, compromise the principals that we represent… If we on the House Majority side see that a plan increases net burdens on the American people… we will oppose it. Not because we seek to be contrarians, but because we recognize that we were elected to lift burdens.

What Happened: The Democratic Take

Pascrell agreed that the issue of securing Hurricane funding is resolved in the short-term, but he sees long-term problems with the way it was resolved.

It has, for the first time, been attached to cutting other programs, robbing Peter to pay Paul. This is a stupid, this is a wrong-headedness, and this is the result of a Congress that is divided. No way of getting around it or putting frosting on the cake. It doesn’t work.

He said that linking cuts to FEMA funding is unprecedented, and unwise. While Republicans say that borrowing for FEMA would add to the national debt, Pascrell disagreed, comparing Irene – a disaster affecting thirty-two million people from fifty-two Congressional Districts--to the financial crisis.

When no one is spending money it’s up to the federal government to do what it can and then pay its bills later… So when people talk out of one side of their mouth about bipartisanship and we gotta get together, and we gotta reconcile this, well that’s all well and good, but your actions speak louder than your words.

Pascrell said Obama has been vilified from day one.

To call him a liar during his State of the Union speech, to call him a Nazi on and off camera, these people, some of them will stop at nothing. So when you want to talk about reconciliation, you need to lower your voice and then raise your commitment to the fact.

He said the approval ratings showing such frustration with Congress are understandable.

Nothing is getting done.. We each of us have to look within ourselves to make the situation better each day rather than simply putting fuel on the flames.

Pascrell said the priority now should be job-creation, and pointed out that under Clinton there were three years of balanced budgets, with taxes ion the most affluent increasing and wide job expansion.

Two House Democrats have now officially embraced the Occupy Wall Street movement --Keith Ellison from Minnesota and Raul Grijalva from Arizona signed a statement saying that they are inspired by the protesters and share their anger at Wall Street.

Pascrell said other Democrats have expressed similar statements in support.

As long as we don’t touch anarchy in any shape or form, I think we’re right on in embracing the very ideals. Look, when no one is held accountable, this is what happens.

He blames Republicans and the push for less regulation as increasing “scams” on Wall Street, and creating unemployment and wage stagnation.

When you make the connection between that and stagnant wages and unemployment… it is a powerful, powerful connection, and I hope folks minimize it, because you’re in for a big surprise.