Rand Paul Isn’t a Hypocrite on Disaster Relief

In the South, five tornadoes destroyed homes and power lines in five states. Kentucky has suffered the most severe damage, with at least 74 deaths. Democratic governor. Andy Beshear says that death rates could go up.

The ongoing pain and suffering in the state have focused the minds of more than a few liberal lawmakers and columnists on the alleged hypocrisy of its junior senator, Rand Paul (R–Ky.Thank you, for asking that the President Joe Biden provides federal disaster aid for the state.

They almost ignore the requests of Paul for assistance in this disaster, as well as his past criticisms regarding disaster relief legislation. These cheap shots are inaccurate and ignore the serious issues of federal overinvolvement with natural disaster response.

Paul wrote to Biden over the weekend approving a request by Beshear for the president to declare a state of emergency and send personnel to FEMA to assess and respond to any damage.

Paul alsoSigned onto the Sunday letter from the Kentucky congressional delegation asking Biden to receive federal individual disaster aid. This pays for temporary housing or repairs to private property that has been damaged.

Biden agreed to both of these requests and declared a major catastrophe in Kentucky on Sunday. Individual assistance was also opened to eight counties that were most severely affected by the tornado.

Reps. Eric Swalwell (D–Calif.) and Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.) They quickly reacted to these calls to critique Paul’s lack of support in the past for different relief measures. Omar goes so far as to quote Paul’s 2017 statement—when a $35 billion relief bill federal for Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico was being debated—that it was easy to be “compassionate with someone else’s money.”

The media commentators are just as harsh.

Paul didn’t ask for federal help from Biden on the weekend. It did however include the condition that all federal dollars given to the state must come from an equivalent offset in another section of the federal budget. CNN’Monday’s Chris Cillizza “When it occurs to YOUR state these same principles will be thrown out the window.”

Los Angeles Times Michael Hiltzik (business columnist) was even harsher in his article about Paul. He said that one almost feels guilty for pointing out Paul’s hypocrisy, since it’s so obvious.

Hiltzik cites Cillizza as a source of the disaster aid funding bills. Hiltzik also cites Paul’s opposition to the $2.2 Trillion Coronavirus Aid, Recovery, and Economic Security Act passed by Congress in March 2020 and another bill allowing the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund unlimited claim acceptance until 2090.

Hiltzik ought to feel less guilty for attacking Paul, given the base of his hypocrisy criticisms. Neither the CARES Act and the 9/11 Victims’ Compensation Fund renewal were similar to the federal assistance he requests for the storm-ravaged Kentuckians.

This was a huge fiscal response to the pandemic. It included individual financial relief payments as well as effective nationalizations of commercial airline companies. While it is possible to be inconsistent in your opposition of these things, you can still support federal aid in the immediate aftermath a disaster.

This also is not in line with Hiltzik’s assertion that Paul only cares about securing funding for the people of his state, since CARES Act funds were sent to Kentucky.

Similar to the previous renewal of the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, which passed in 2019, allows it to accept claims for compensation through 2090. It also authorizes the beneficiary to receive payments without Congress actually appropriating any money.

Paul was against the funding extension because it was not budgeted and it was being passed by the Senate without any debate.

One might think that criticism of Paul’s opposition to past disaster relief bills—which were also echoed at ABC News and Salon, and elsewhere—are more on point. They’re not.

Paul is hypocritical in his opposition to the supplemental appropriation bill to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and 2017’s wildfires and hurricanes.

Understanding that Paul’s opposition was to supplemental disaster funding bills meant that Congress spent more money than it had provided for disaster aid.

In both cases, Paul proposed amending these bills so that they offset these supplemental appropriations—which ended up being $51 billion for Hurricane Sandy and a whopping $136 billion for 2017’s disasters—with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.

Paul’s position is sensible in both instances. It basically boils down the idea of Congress deciding how much money it will spend each year. Some critics believe congressional budgets are fictions that can be expanded whenever there is a new expense item.

Paul’s support for federal assistance in Kentucky to deal with disasters will be provided by the federal government’s Disaster Relief Fund. It had $45 billion as of December 1. The fund is expected to end fiscal 2022 with $10 Billion in reserve.

At this point, there is no proposal for additional disaster spending beyond what has already been allocated to Kentucky and the other affected states. Paul would support them if they did, without requiring spending cuts. ThatIt would be hypocritical.

He has received everything that he asked for.

It’s important to be clear that Paul doesn’t consider himself a libertarian in his views on federal disaster aid. However, the current disaster response system and relief system creates too big a role for the federal governments. The result is a dependence where state and local officials turn to Washington when they need help. Paul’s request for individual assistance and Biden’s approval of it creates moral hazards by making people pay to repair damage they haven’t covered.

It would be possible to have a meaningful conversation about federal disaster aid and preserve incentives, but it is likely that we won’t, as legislators or pundits tend to focus primarily on false, cheap-shot hypocrisy accusations.