David Vitter Plays Horrific Game of Disaster Olympics

Republican Senator David Vitter of Louisiana, best known for hiring prostitutes and then keeping his job (something New Yorkers wish Eliot Spitzer had the good sense to do) took to Twitter to label Harry Reid an “idiot” today after the Senate Majority Leader compared the victims of Superstorm Sandy to those of Hurricane Katrina.

“Sadly, Harry Reid has again revealed himself to be an idiot, this time gravely insulting Gulf Coast residents…Both Katrina and Sandy were horribly destructive storms that caused real human misery.  And by most any measure, Katrina was our worst natural disaster in history.”

Vitter does have a point — the indirect damage of destroyed levees compromised by Hurricane Katrina exacerbated the consequences of that storm. Katrina caused 1,833 deaths and $108 billion in damage, while Sandy caused 131 deaths and $65 billion in damage. In fairness to Reid, his statement focused on the loss of homes specifically rather than loss of life or economic activity, but it does ring hollow to suggest that Sandy “trumped” Katrina.

But at the end of the day, who cares? Reid and the Democrats are asking for a relief package that Republicans are holding up. The critique from David Vitter suggests that relief is improper for a storm causing 60% of the Katrina’s financial damage. It’s a sort of “Disaster Olympics” where only the “big” disasters deserve federal aid and “big” is defined by that additional percentage of economic hardship.

The horror of playing this sort of game is that necessary federal missions are rendered contingent — and by extension the lives and livelihood of victims are rendered contingent. If your home is washed away, you deserve nothing because while your loss is real, the aggregate losses of you and your neighbors don’t reach the threshold set by Katrina. That’s a dangerous precedent.

With unbiased evaluations pegging the damage at around $65 billion, the Republicans may well have valid questions as to why the federal government is putting up almost all the money (when private insurers presumably have some obligations), but the idea that the bill should be held up entirely (save the $9 billion fast tracked already) because David Vitter wants everyone to recognize that Hurricane Katrina was, indeed, “bigger” is shameful.

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