Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is mad as hell. In fact, you might call him off-the-chart, legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight chair-throwing mad. Joining him in his anger are the congressional delegations from New York and New Jersey, who are enraged at the last-minute maneuvering by House Speaker John Boehner to not act upon a $27 billion dollar aid package for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Calling it “indefensible” and a “dereliction of duty,” the outgoing Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee tore his “personal friend” Boehner a brand new you know what from the floor of the U.S. House.

In what can only be described as truly last minute parliamentary maneuvering after the House had passed its Fiscal Cliff package, the Sandy aid package that New York and New Jersey members had been working on for weeks had the rug pulled out from under it. It was not given the vote that had been promised.

Rep. King and other New York and New Jersey members had been shepherding the package through often arcane and byzantine legislative processes. It was their constituents who needed help from Washington, but when it came time to vote, some of the legislators in the nation’s capitol literally walked away. Hence the outrage from Rep. King and others.

None of the members of the New York or New Jersey congressional delegation could be described as genteel wallflowers. In fact, many of them often mirror the very people they represent, with their in-your-face, chin-first, “you wanna piece of me” manner. All you have to do is watch any of Committee hearings or floor speeches of Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), or just about any other member of either delegation to know that a whisper from them is comparable to the roar of African lion.

As deserved and justified as King’s rage may be, it also needs to be directed at his counterparts in the U.S. Senate who in sending the original $60.4 billion aid package to the House, saddled it with items that in no way, shape or form provide assistance to the people who need it.

As detailed by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Hurricane Sandy aid package that was to be put before the US House for approval included $150 million in aid for fisheries in Alaska; $2 million for a new roof for the Smithsonian; $8 million for equipment for the Homeland Security and Justice departments and several other goodies. Isn’t it amazing how a package designed to provide real relief and assistance for people who desperately need it could be leveraged for something for the folks back home?

Some years back, then-White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel offered the following guidance on operating in Washington: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

I guess this “Gospel of Rahm,” which has been in practice for far too long in Washington, was being exercised here by Senators who saw a disaster aid package as their only ticket to getting the folks back home what they needed.

Even the so-called remedy of the Fiscal Cliff – which was to save the country from even greater ruin – found itself filled with “goodies” that had next to nothing to do with yours or my tax rates. From rum taxes, cheaper office space for Goldman Sachs, and assistance for building NASCAR racetracks, the legislation that kept the midnight oil burning on the Hill over the holidays was filled with what my late grandfather would call “crap” – but he had a much more powerful way of saying it.

The ill-fated Sandy package is not the first such aid package to be decorated with such riders, amendments and so-called earmarks, and it certainly won’t be the last. It is worth asking Congressional Members who put forward such extraneous items into a disaster aid bill, however, if what they want is so important that it take priority over people in dire need.

It would be like asking your neighbor to lend you a hand moving something and having them make it contingent upon you paying their family’s water bill in a far off state. It would be rude and absolutely inappropriate. Unfortunately rude and inappropriate are accepted forms of behavior in much of Washington, especially in the legislative cycle.

King’s rage and that of his NY and NJ colleagues is deserved, especially after what was promised was revoked. I just wish some of that anger could be directed at the people who saw the need to prey about tragic circumstances to get what the folks back home want them to get when they are sent to Washington.

It’s no wonder Congress has the dismal approval rating it does. It fails to treat people like decent neighbors and takes advantage of them when they really need a helping hand. That’s where some of Peter King’s rage needs to be directed.

Who knows? If we got angrier about the poor and predatory behavior and exposed it for what it really is, we just might clean up something that desperately needs to be cleaned and repaired. That might make us all better neighbors and give us the government we so desperately need and desire.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • Bob C

    I feel terrible for the people who need relief from Sandy and it’s so frustrating that bill after bill that has noble intent is stuffed with pork. How many times must we see good bills loaded with pork projects that can’t get passed on their own merit (e.g., Rum taxes). So here we are, a noble and necessary bill loaded with “crap”, so much that it makes it hard to pass it given the country’s economic health.

    It’s long past time to prohibit earmarks on critical legislation. I know they’ll never ban earmarks, but they can start with prohibiting them on bills like this!

  • atlhockeymom

    I enjoyed your commentary and only wish the masses would read and understand it. It’s difficult to remain optimistic in today’s world of ‘sound bite’ reality and loss of journalistic integrity. I long for the days of Walter Cronkite, non-political correctness, and a time when civility and decorum was the unspoken rule. Leaders consistently point to a breakdown of values and a need for role models each time a tragedy occurs. Yet fail to find fault with their own behavior. Are there any statesmen/women left among us? For it will require a true leader of good character and great courage to return this nation to solid footing.