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When Red States Are Dying for Federal Aid

Joe Conason on

On his very first day in Congress -- long before he began to preen as a potential presidential candidate -- Ron DeSantis proved he was unfit for national office. The date was January 4, 2013, and he cast his maiden vote on the House floor against $9.7 billion in federal flood insurance aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.

Recalled nearly a decade later, that vote strikes a stunning chord of hypocrisy and cruelty, now that he is pleading for far larger sums from Washington to rebuild the communities destroyed by Hurricane Ian in his home state. With characteristic arrogance, DeSantis abruptly dismisses any questions about these contradictory positions as "politics" and "pettiness." He simply thrusts out his chin and blusters because he has no answers -- or at least none that won't make him look even worse.

Back when he voted "no" on Sandy aid to the northern states, DeSantis pretended to be a fiscal conservative. He claimed to sympathize with the victims of that devastating storm but wasn't inclined to send them any help beyond the usual Republican thoughts and prayers. According to him, increasing the flood insurance program's debt at that time "with no plan to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere is not fiscally responsible."

The finger-wagging and penny-pinching that impressed conservatives in Washington is entirely absent from the letter DeSantis sent a few days ago to President Joe Biden. That urgent message implored the administration to provide "100% reimbursement" for the hurricane damage suffered in southwest Florida. Nowhere did his letter suggest -- and in none of his media appearances has the governor ever said -- that the White House should first identify "budget offsets" to pay for that aid. (In fact, this political Gumby abandoned all that sanctimonious noisemaking in October 2017, when he voted for a $36.5 billion relief bill after a trio of catastrophic storms struck Florida. That bill contained no offsets either. Of course, DeSantis was about to run for governor the following year.)

Republican demands for fiscal probity apply only to blue states, which actually pay for the disaster aid that is shared all over the country -- and flows uninterrupted to red states that send far less to the Treasury than they receive.

But Biden, a decent man who actually believes with his whole heart in bipartisan comity and patriotic goodwill, would never mention how DeSantis tried to deprive their fellow Americans of desperately needed assistance. Nor would he ever ask why DeSantis has done nothing as governor to increase the rate of flood insurance among Florida's coastal homeowners, when the Republican evidently has so much free time to spend persecuting gays and immigrants, censoring opponents and making up fairy tales about American history.

Instead, Biden assured the Florida governor -- the same strutting bully who just a few days ago threatened to send Venezuelan asylum seekers to the president's Delaware home -- that the United States still stands ready to fulfill the meaning of its name.

 

As governor DeSantis is worse than useless, a loudmouth brimming with sound bites and devoid of solutions. There was nothing even marginally original in his sanctimonious nonsense about spending on disaster aid. But then we've seen the same depressing performance on many occasions from his fellow Republicans.

Sen. Ted Cruz, the junior Republican from Texas so widely disliked on both sides of the aisle, notoriously lied about the 2017 disaster relief bill, which he falsely depicted as "pork." Last year Sen. Rand Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, pulled the same stunt when he demanded tornado relief after years of voting down aid to other states.

Whenever these craven politicians claim they want to "make America great again," mimicking Trump, think how great America was before ultra-partisans sought to divide us for their own advancement. Biden and the Democrats, who consistently support aid to blue and red states alike wherever needed, are right to do so. It's deeply irritating to listen to every "conservative" phony manufacture excuses to oppose assistance to states other than their own -- and it's tempting to tell them to buzz off when they beg for it, as DeSantis is doing now.

That's when we must remember that the only thing worse than listening to them is becoming like them.

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To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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