Thursday, September 15, 2005

Congressman Flake explains his vote against the $50 billion Katrina disaster relief

'No' is a 'yes' for fiscal discipline:


Not long after I was first elected to Congress, I took my daughter, Alexis, then just 10 years old, onto the floor of the House of Representatives to "help me vote."

Late that night, after the last series of votes, she pulled the card from the slot and asked, "Dad, when do we get to vote 'Yes'?" It was a proud moment between this noted cheapskate and his daughter.

I must confess, however, that it is not always easy to look up from the floor of the House and see your name next to a small red "no" vote, surrounded by a sea of green "yes" votes.

You just know that as soon as you arrive back in your office you will be inundated with phone calls calling you heartless and uncaring. You sit down to write a statement, anticipating the headline in tomorrow's local paper. The next morning, sure enough, there it is:

"Flake votes against hurricane relief bill" (Republic, Friday).

This time I was not alone. Eleven of us pushed the red button, including two committee chairmen.

None of us would argue that relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina is not needed. The previous week we unanimously agreed to support a $10.5 billion supplemental appropriation bill for hurricane relief. I think each of us would have been glad to do so again.

But giving the Federal Emergency Management Agency $50 billion at one time is simply not wise public policy. It makes effective oversight too difficult.

When Congress is spending an amount of money this large ($50 billion in spending
requires taking $600 from every family in America), we had better make sure that we know how it is being spent. Those of us who voted against the bill simply did not feel that proper safeguards were in place.

Further, many of us voting "no" were troubled by the absence of offsets. In other words, this new $50 billion spending bill is not accompanied by spending cuts elsewhere in the budget. We are simply adding to the deficit and piling more debt on future generations. Unfortunately, my request for offsets was ignored by Republicans and Democrats alike.

This attitude toward emergency spending has not always been the case. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, Franklin D. Roosevelt realized that we would be spending more on defense, so he cut non-defense spending by more than 20 percent. He even eliminated popular domestic programs. After the Korean War began in 1950, Harry S. Truman cut non-military spending by 28 percent.

In both cases, Congress was a willing partner with the president in ensuring fiscal discipline. Not so today. Neither the president nor Congress even talks about offsets, for fear of being considered uncompassionate.

Over the past five years, I have cast a number of votes I am not very proud of. I do not always have the courage of my convictions. But I would be hard pressed to find any "no" vote on a spending bill that I would not gladly cast the same way again, including last week's vote against the Katrina supplemental spending bill.

I must admit, however, that I would like to see a headline, just once, after a lonely "no" vote which reads: "Flake votes 'no' on spending bill and 'yes' for fiscal discipline."

Not very likely.



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