FreedomWorks Foundation Content

Sandy: Log-Rolling from Alaska to New Jersey

The House of Representatives passed the second installment of the Hurricane Sandy bailout Tuesday night, as Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) brought up a bill he knew would pass without support from his own party. That allowed conservatives to vote against a bill that conservative groups were adding to their legislative scorecards.

The path of the bill has been marked by one consistent strawman argument: opposition has been cast as opposition to relief, rather than opposition to the corrupt spending accompanying it.

The Hill reported:

Members approved the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, H.R. 152, in a 241-180 vote. Among Republicans, 179 voted against it, and just 49 voted for it, a protest against a bill that many conservatives say is too big and provides funding for things other than immediate relief for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

As FreedomWorks blogger Breeanne Howe points out, the Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Act came along at a time when conservatives in Congress are loathe to repeat the wasteful mistakes of past relief efforts.  Yet projects unrelated to Sandy from Alaska to Florida got put into the bill.

Conservative groups came out strongly against the goody-filled second helping for the region around New York City affected by last year’s big storm. The problem with the Sandy bills has not been “pork” or “earmarks” per se, but the practice of logrolling

Logrolling, or birling, is a sport that originated in the lumberjack tradition of the northeastern United States and Canada. It involves standing on a log that is floating in a river and spinning it with ones feet, either to cooperate with, or to try to throw off another competitor. In legislative circles, logrolling is exchanging of favors such as trading votes to gain passage of actions of interest to each legislative member. A politician would be obligated to vote for other legislators’ earmarked legislation if they voted for his–and, more importantly, to agree to greater spending measures than he would otherwise approve of. In other words, if everybody cooperated and “rolled the log” together, then nobody fell off.

We can see the behavior of the logrollers as they spin, offering the forbidden fruit. Politicians all know how this game is played: one hand washes the other. Reformers will point out the waste, rather than engage in it. 

The House put off a disaster relief bill for hurricane Sandy in the waning hours of the lame duck session of the 112th Congress, taking it up at the beginning of the 113th. Rather than understanding the reluctance of conservative legislators to add unrelated spending items to the disaster relief, some officials affected by the disaster lashed out and demanded their share.

News site Twitchy followed the story, saying:

Well, anyone hoping that Chris Christie would use his soapbox to shine a spotlight on the porktastic components of the failed Sandy relief bill got hung out to dry. At his presser today, Christie railed against John Boehner and the House GOP for scrapping the bill:

The New Jersey politician showed that he is willing to ignore the difference between government waste and legitimate spending when it suits him:

When called out on it, Mr. Christie eventually demanded a “clean” aid bill.

Rather than blame the people who added the pork to the aid for his region, Christie had rolled the log, allowing the unscrupulous to take advantage of his citizens’ hour of need. Fiscal conservatives, libertarians, and clean-government activists should watch who uses the needs of the people hit by Hurricane Sandy to feather their own nests. 

Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole said there was a clear federal responsibility in this case. “We have a national interest in getting this region on its feet as quickly as possible.” Everyone knows that, Mr. Cole. The question is how much corruption is allowed to go along for the ride?

New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo did his part to spin the log, reminding members (in case they were unaware of natural disasters) that bad things happen everywhere, and they would want support for their districts when it did:

“Florida, good luck with no more hurricanes,” Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) shouted to any member who might oppose the bill. “California, congratulations, did you get rid of the Andreas Fault? The Mississippi’s in a drought. Do you think you’re not going to have a flood again?

“Who are you going to come to when you have these things? We need this, we need it now. Do the right thing, as we have always done for you.”

Read more:

You scratch my back, I scratch yours. You pass my emergency relief bill, and when your emergency comes up I’ll owe you a favor. Let’s just not talk about what else we’re buying with money we don’t have.

Bills before Congress should be simple, short, and clear, allowing members and their staff to read and understand them before voting. In fact, complicated legislation is one reason members of Congress have the oversized staff they do.

If something is important enough for the federal government to do, it should be a simple matter to get Congress to pass a law just for that one thing. If something is not important enough for its own law, how can it be important enough for the federal government to spend our money on?

Most pork is not even stuff the federal government ought to be doing. A bridge between Missouri and Illinois is a candidate for federal spending. Local, intrastate projects should be funded by local and state taxpayers.

FreedomWorks activist volunteer Marc Grove said, “I dont think people get that the Founders intentionally set it up that laws are hard to pass.”

“But,” you say, “Congress would never get anything done if they had to pass one law at a time!”

I fail to see the problem with that.