Midwesterners accustomed to generous government aid after ice storms, floods and tornadoes may soon have to look somewhere else for help when disaster strikes.
Even as the U.S. House on Tuesday passed a $50.7 billion aid package for victims of the Northeasts Hurricane Sandy, local members of Congress said future federal disaster assistance even in their own backyards should be stopped unless other government spending is cut to pay for the aid.
The days of just spending money outside the budget ... have got to come to an end, said Rep. Sam Graves, a Missouri Republican. We have to find ways to pay for that stuff. Thats all there is to it.
But finding cuts to pay for every disaster would be a major change in U.S. policy, and politically explosive.
Tuesdays Sandy aid package, for example, included roughly $12 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the nations primary conduit for disaster response. Since 2004, taxpayers have sent more than $80 billion to FEMA for various disasters, virtually none of it offset by other spending cuts.
That pattern continued Tuesday when a proposal to cut spending to pay for some of the Sandy package failed. It was the latest, piecemeal effort to offset disaster spending with cuts elsewhere.
Local members of Congress say they arent giving up.
Less than two weeks ago, Graves and all four House members from Kansas sided with a small minority voting against the initial installment of Sandy spending. That would allot $9.7 billion for the National Flood Insurance Program to pay hurricane claims. They said their opposition was based partly on the lack of offsetting cuts to other federal programs.
We have to talk seriously about offsets, Rep. Tim Huelskamp, a Kansas Republican, said after the vote.
Those votes infuriated members of Congress from the Northeast, of both parties, and their constituents. They said spending cuts werent required after Joplins tornado or Hurricane Katrina, and shouldnt be needed for Sandy.
Maybe there is a bias against the northeastern states of this country, said Rep. Albio Sires, a New Jersey Democrat.
People are bitter, said Michael Dominowski, a writer and editor at the Staten Island Advance in New York. In a column, he noted past support for tornado and flood relief in Kansas and other states by northeastern members of Congress.
Indeed, records show Kansas and Missouri among the states most dependent on federal disaster relief. They could have much to lose if disaster spending came only after offsets with other budget cuts.
From 2004 to 2011, the Government Accountability Office found, Kansas took more than $1.2 billion in relief for natural disasters. Thats roughly as much as New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey and Delaware combined. Connecticut alone has a larger population than Kansas.
Most of that cash went to local governments to defray the costs of cleanup and rebuilding that might ordinarily fall on local taxpayers. It includes $40 million spent to help residents of Greensburg, Kan., after a 2007 tornado destroyed most of the community.
On a per-person basis, the GAO said, Kansas ranked ninth nationally in federal disaster spending, ahead of hurricane-plagued Texas and far ahead of New York and California.