It seems like for now Oklahoma Republicans are rejecting the disaster-cost ideology recently presented by a national GOP leader, but what about next year?
In a response to Hurricane Irene, which hit the East Coast about a week ago, U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, made the argument that federal money used in disaster response and relief should be offset by cuts in other parts of the federal budget. Cantor told Fox News:
There’s a federal role; yes we’re going to find the money, we’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so.
His comments drew praise from former Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown, but U.S. Rep. David Price, a Democrat from North Carolina and a member of a Homeland Security appropriations subcommittee, called the comments “abhorrent.”
Meanwhile, Oklahoma faced its own weather-related disaster last week in the form of wildfires that destroyed a lot of property and disrupted many lives here. In contrast to Cantor’s position, Gov. Mary Fallin, a fellow Republican, made it clear that money wasn’t going to become the focus of the disaster-response operation.
According to NewsOK, Fallin said:
I want to make it perfectly clear that there is no holding back, of using National Guard personnel, helicopters based upon the financial cost. We will do whatever we have to do. We’re not going to hold back on protecting families, on protecting homes and putting out the fires based upon costs.
Is Fallin, then, dismissing Cantor’s position?
As I wrote last February, Oklahoma ranks unusually high in FEMA disaster declarations. Without federal help in ensuring Oklahoma recovers from its annual litany of tornadoes, blizzards, ice storms and wildfires, would the state still even exist? That’s not hyperbole. Oklahoma has long been considered a receiver state that pays less in federal taxes than it receives back in federal money. The federal government, despite all the anti-government, Tea-Party rhetoric here, ensures Oklahoma’s viability and it always will.
Of course, Cantor’s comments were just typical political posturing, but they do expose a looming problem. As climate change produces more extreme weather events like hurricanes and wildfires, as scientists predict, how will government pay for disaster response and relief? His comments also provide a de facto litmus test for the new Republican Party. Will fellow Republicans, such as Fallin, have to cave in to extreme ideology that actually threatens the safety and welfare of citizens, in order to remain politically viable?
Fallin was right on the money with her comments, but will she retain her pragmatic position on disaster response? We’ve already seen her embrace right-wing extremism by refusing to accept federal money to help the state set up a health insurance exchange. That was a clear case of political gamesmanship. Will the state’s extreme weather become politicized as well?