Democrats stand unified in the belief that we should support citizens whose homes and communities are destroyed by disaster.
What a ridiculous thing to have to say. It wasn't long ago that Americans — all Americans — united behind the victims of natural disaster. But today, as we learned last week, some members of Congress are not above using emergency assistance as another pawn in Washington's destructive political chess match.
To be clear, this is not a simple Democrats versus Republicans issue. When Congressman Peter King, the Republican from New York slammed Rep. Hal Rogers, the Republican from Kentucky, for stalling a vote to provide emergency assistance to victims of Superstorm Sandy, Rogers understandably took offense at the suggestion and brought the bill to a committee vote the next day.
The bill sailed through the full (Republican) House by a ratio of better than five to one.
While the fringe opposition was small, its very existence is cause for concern and, here in Kentucky where our two newest members of Congress opposed the disaster aid bill, it is reason for alarm.
Andy Barr and Thomas Massie both represent areas that have benefitted from disaster assistance in recent years, yet each used his second day in Congress for a futile attempt to deny the same support for others in need. Barr called their departure from the Golden Rule "common sense," but New Jersey's Republican Gov. Chris Christie called it something else: "It's why the American people hate Congress."
To Christie and victims who watched their disaster used as a political bargaining chip, this was a new low. He correctly observed, "this used to be something that was not political. Disaster relief was something you didn't play games with."
That this is an embarrassment for our commonwealth is obvious, but we must hope it isn't also a dangerous miscalculation. What are the chances the combined 44 member delegations from New York and New Jersey will remember this revolt next time Kentucky is in need?
What are the chances that the more than 350 members of Congress who supported the assistance will take seriously the prospects of working earnestly with our freshmen representatives on matters not so clear cut?
This is the dangerous position we find ourselves in when we elect politicians who see their political philosophies, not as a guide to achieving goals, but as the goals themselves. The problem isn't merely that Barr and Massie have extreme ideas, it's that those ideas trump the needs of real people, families, communities.
For most, even those in Congress, an emergency makes us ask, "What can we do to help?" But ideologues like Barr and Massie ask, "How can this emergency help us to further our philosophy?"
Contrast that with the approach of Gov. Steve Beshear, who has had the unenviable task of overseeing more than his share of natural disasters in five years as governor. From ice storms and tornados to droughts and floods, he has personally gone to the affected regions, secured immediate aid and swiftly delivered whatever assistance he could to help struggling families recover and return to their lives. He never paused to wonder if he was helping a red county or blue, or used the urgency to bargain for a political victory.
But Barr and Massie proved on day two that neither is that kind of leader. They join a small but loud minority of extremists who believe they were sent to Washington to force the adoption of the austerity policies we've been seeing in Europe, and to do so at any cost.
This is the thinking that created and briefly took us over the unnecessary fiscal cliff, with Massie's vote.
But as we head toward another avoidable debt ceiling debate, these two self-proclaimed fiscally responsible congressmen warrant watching. Will they again join with the most extreme elements of their party in arguing for default or work with serious leaders in both parties to find the best solution for the American people?
Let's hope it's the latter. As any Kentucky family can tell you, there's nothing responsible about refusing to pay your bills. They'd tell you when money's tight, you need to approach your budget with balance, not simply refuse to pay your mortgage.
But if last week is any indication, Barr and Massie are more concerned with furthering their own political ideology than listening to what anyone's family has to say.