One Man's Disaster Relief Is Another Man's Pork

In all the attention paid to the drama over the fiscal cliff, most people momentarily forgot that there were a few other important things the 112th Congress was supposed to take care of before its ignominious term came to an end. But yesterday, thanks to a couple of prominent politicians criticizing their own party—something always guaranteed to garner plenty of media attention—everybody remembered that states in the Northeast, particularly New York and New Jersey, are still waiting on federal disaster aid. First New Jersey governor Chris Christie came out and gave a blistering press conference in which he blasted House Republicans for not taking up the relief bill, saying, "There is only one group to blame for the continued suffering of these innocent victims: the House majority and their speaker, John Boehner." Christie also said he called Boehner multiple times, but Boehner wouldn't return his calls. Then Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, delivered a rather extraordinary statement on Fox News, not only urging people in New York and New Jersey not to donate to members of his party, but referring to them as "these Republicans," as though they were from a group of which he was not a part. "These Republicans have no problem finding New York when they're out raising millions of dollars," King said. "I'm saying right now, anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their minds. Because what they did last night was put a knife in the back of New Yorkers and New Jerseyans. It was an absolute disgrace." Yow!

Obviously, it's good politics to plead on behalf of the folks back home, but King seemed genuinely pissed off (it's harder to tell with Christie, since pissed off is pretty much his default mood). And the GOP is about as popular as syphilis right now, so criticizing them is also good politics. That will always be true for Christie, which could complicate his potential 2016 presidential run—he can't look too close to the national party or his popularity at home will suffer, but he can't be too antagonistic if he's going to win over Republican primary voters. (King won his last election without too much trouble, but his district has plenty of Democrats). But this is a good reminder that one man's absolutely necessary emergency government expenditure is another man's pork.

This mini-revolt also reminds us just how far south the center of gravity within the Republican party has moved. New Jersey, which has an independent commission draw its congressional districts, will have a 6-6 split in its delegation in the new Congress. But head north, and it's tough to find a Republican. Only six of New York's 27 members are Republicans, and there are a grand total of zero Republican representatives from the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. Christie and King are criticizing a party in which they as Northeasterners are a vanishing breed.

The fact that Sandy hit a couple of states that many members of the House GOP caucus would just as soon see go straight to hell anyway went a long way to mitigate their enthusiasm for disaster relief. This problem is both regional and ideological. The time is gone when most or all members of Congress saw Americans suffering from a natural disaster, no matter what part of the country it occurred in, and said, "Of course the federal government will help." After all, the fact that people are looking for help from the federal government just shows that they're 47-percenters who deserve nothing but contempt.

All that being said, there's only so much pressure an embattled Speaker can take. After emerging battered and bruised from the fiscal cliff debacle, by the end of the day yesterday Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor basically sued Christie for peace, declaring that the new Congress will take up a Sandy relief bill on the first day of its session.

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