An editorial in the Kansas City Star yesterday makes some interesting points about responding to short-term disasters, preparing for long-term disasters, and problem of money.
... it hardly requires an expert to behold the devastation in Joplin and see that, while charitable resources are essential, private donors will not be able to fund all that is needed. Joplin needs new school buildings, a new power grid, massive work on its hospital. And that's only the beginning.
This brings us to a rather shameful debate now taking place in, of course, Congress.
To its credit, a key House panel has approved an additional $1 billion in federal relief money to respond to a spring of natural disasters. But as soon as cries for help were heard, lawmakers pounced on the chance to make partisan points.
House Republicans are starting to demand that disaster relief funds be balanced with cuts in other areas of federal spending, essentially using human tragedy to advance their political agenda. One suggestion is that we should cut a program encouraging the production of more fuel efficient cars, a program brought about by economic and long-term national security concerns.
Here's the big picture: If the United States is to the point at which helping disaster victims means cutting other needed programs, it's time to rethink the way we're running this country. Today, Americans have the lightest total tax burden they've had since 1958. One result of that low tax burden, and the resulting inadequate federal and state revenue, is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency faces a $3 billion shortfall. And that's before the Joplin bills arrive.
Overly optimistic projections during good times brought us to this point. Pandering politicians agreed to tax cuts that this country could not afford. But that's the past. Going forward, we must be able to agree it is un-American to scramble and bicker over priorities every time nature strikes.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.