When The Levee Breaks: Why Partisan Politics Threatens People’s Lives

“You didn’t see the other sign that they have? ‘We don’t like big government… until we like big government.’” – Rand Paul, May 26, 2015

U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) was specifically talking about Republicans and conservative activists who say they support freedom and small government, but then say NSA spying and the PATRIOT Act — two things that expand the size, role, and power of government — are necessary for the security of the nation.

However, such an inconsistency can be applied to pretty much any issue — people are against something when they have something to gain from the position or to stick it to a political opponent, but when it affects their political futures, their electoral district, or their constituents, they do a complete about-face.

These political games are all too common on Capitol Hill and prevent anything substantive from getting accomplished in Congress.

Take, for instance, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas). The Daily News reports that Cruz, who is also a 2016 presidential hopeful, “called for federal relief Wednesday in the wake of devastating floods and storms that have ravaged his home state.” However, in October 2012, Cruz voted against disaster relief for areas decimated by Hurricane Sandy, calling it “symptomatic of a larger problem in Washington – an addiction to spending money we do not have.”

Texas is seeing floods that no state resident has seen in their lifetime. It seems the entire state is under water. Residents living near rivers have been forced to evacuate. People have lost their homes and their livelihoods. To date, at least 21 people have been killed and 11 people are missing — and more storms threatens Texas. ‘Devastating’ isn’t a strong enough word.

Of course Texas needs federal relief. Cruz is right to request it — dare I say demand it. But disaster relief should never be treated like a partisan issue, used to help score political points with some voters when it involves people on the other side of the country, but then demanded when a lawmaker’s own people are affected. The federal government either has an obligation to provide disaster relief or it doesn’t — you can’t have it both ways.

When lawmakers play partisan games in the aftermath of terrible natural disasters, people don’t get the assistance they need. They don’t get the relief that might mean the difference between life and death. When Congress doesn’t act when they need to, people die.

Sadly, while these tragic events should serve as a wake up call to many members of Congress, nothing changes.