There's gold in that thar deficit. At least, that seems to be the attitude of Senator Charles Schumer, who thinks the tab for the damage left by Hurricane Sandy should be picked up by the federal government and charged to the deficit, that extraordinary treasure chest of boundless wealth. According to the New York Daily News:
Sen. Charles Schumer called the fallout from Hurricane Sandy a "national disaster" and called on a federal government to cover at least 90% of the costs.
"This is one of the biggest disasters to have ever struck this state and even this country," Schumer said at an afternoon briefing with Gov. Cuomo. "The federal response has to measure that scope and be equal to that that scope."
"We cannot cut corners. We cannot count nickels and dimes. This isn't a New York disaster, a Connecticut disaster, a Jersey disaster. It is national disaster. It needs to be treated that way by every member of Congress, by all the members of the executive branch."
Where is a federal government that is strapped, to say the least, and either facing a fiscal cliff or already tumbling down the face of it, going to get enough moolah so that it doesn't have to "cut corners" or "count nickels and dimes"? So glad you asked. From the Washington Times:
But Mr. Schumer did say that any added money will be tacked onto the deficit, which already is expected to reach about $1 trillion in fiscal 2013. He rejected the suggestion that other programs should be cut in order to pay for any new budget needs, saying Democrats won that fight on previous emergency spending bills, too.
Sen. Schumer isn't the only politician to think the deficit is the equivalent of an infinite bank vault. Rep. Tom DeLay had the same idea when it came to paying for Hurricane Katrina. You can see that federal finances are now, as ever, in good hands.
By the way, Reason's own Shikha Dalmia explains, at the Washington Examiner, why the bill for disaster cleanup always seems to be so darned impressive.
But if you think FEMA's inability to provide rapid relief subverts the core reason for its existence, think again. A few days after the Times' valentine, FEMA head W. Craig Fugate told the newspaper that the agency's rapid response role is really a fallacy. "The general public assumes we are part of the response team that will be there the first couple of days," he said. But it is really designed to deal with disasters several days after the fact.
How does FEMA do that? By indiscriminately writing checks—a task at which it evidently excels.
FEMA administrator Elizabeth Zimmerman testified before Congress last year that between 2005 and 2009, 14.5 percent of the agency's $10 billion-plus disaster aid budget was handed to people who didn't qualify. The agency tried to get 154,000 of these people to return the money (on average, each had received about $5,000), but they filed a class action lawsuit forcing FEMA to pay them a multimillion settlement. And it forgave the debt of every one with an income below $90,000.
Yes, I think we should expect the federal deficit to get just a bit larger.