The Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill Is 71 Percent Pork

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Senate Gutted the House Bill

Senate Gutted the House Bill

[Update January 5, 2013.  The comment below is correct.  I used “trillion” in several places when I should have used billion. And in at least one place I used billion instead of million. I have made the corrections in the text below.  My apologies for the error.]

House Speaker John Boehner has been lambasted in the media (and by so-called Republicans Peter King and Chris Christie) for refusing to bring the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill (H.R.1) to a vote.  Along with many others, he has argued that the bill is loaded with pork (referred to from this point forward as Porkulus Obama.  Thanks to @DividendMaster for inventing that colorfully descriptive phrase).  According to my calculations the Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill is 71% pork.

Politics

The bill labeled H.R.1 bears no resemblance to anything passed by the House of Representatives.  Basically the Senate gutted the bill and replaced all of it with their own material.  This is from the beginning of the bill itself

In the Senate of the United States,

December 28, 2012.

Resolved, That the bill from the House of Representatives (H.R. 1) entitled `An Act making appropriations for the Department of Defense and the other departments and agencies of the Government for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2011, and for other purposes.’, do pass with the following

AMENDMENTS:

Strike all after the enacting clause, and insert in lieu thereof:

That the following sums are hereby appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, for fiscal year 2013, and for other purposes, namely:

The next time Harry Reid and Barack Obama wonder why they’re not getting much cooperation from House Republicans, perhaps they should think about the insult contained in the above action.

The Data

As always, my methodology is transparent.  I have read H.R.1 carefully and tried to copy it accurately into an Excel workbook.  Click here for the Excel 2011/2007 version (recommended).  Dinosaurs may click here for an Excel 2003 version.  The full text of the bill is also available. Click here for the Word 2011/2007 version or click here for the pdf version.

Here’s some advice on using the Excel workbook.  Read the notes, looking specifically for the word “detail.”  That word means there is a worksheet containing additional calculations, usually for individual line items.  Those detail worksheets link back to the main worksheet (labeled Rollup).  It’s best not to change any dollar amounts on the Rollup sheet that are linked to a detail sheet.

Probably the main use of this worksheet is to change my estimates of the percentages allocated to Hurricane Sandy.  In general, if the text specifies Hurricane Sandy, I allocated 100 percent to Sandy relief.  I urge you to read the actual text of the bill before changing these percentages.  To make this a little easier, the Word version of the full text of the bill has bookmarks at the beginning of each Title.

Some Swinish Examples

The main Porkulus Obama is in HUD’s Community Development Fund.  Out of a $17 billion appropriation, only $2.52 billion is allocated in line items.  The remaining $14.48 billion can, apparently, be used by HUD for anything it wants.  That’s a cool 33.6 percent of the total.

Another 23.5 percent (about $11.9 billion) is allocated to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  You might think FEMA funds would be a slam-dunk, but not so fast.  Here’s what the bill has to say about these funds:

“be for major disasters declared pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act” and “the amount in the previous proviso is designated by the Congress as being for disaster relief pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(D) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985”
“shall be transferred to the Department of Homeland Security `Office of Inspector General’ for audits and investigations related to disasters.”
“That these funds are available to subsidize gross obligations for the principal amount of direct loans not to exceed $400,000,000”

You are welcome to read the actual bill.  Be sure to let me know if you can find any reference to Sandy in the FEMA appropriations.

Probably the most egregious (but not the most expensive) example is for State and Tribal Assistance Grants (lines 51 and 52 in the Excel workbook).  These two items are called “Capitalization grants for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund” and “Capitalization grants for Safe Drinking Water Act.”  I know the Mohawk and Mohican tribes are from the general New York area.  But I’m not sure how much of their tribal lands were affected by Sandy.  And this is only $810 million dollars, about 1.5 percent of the total bill.  Here’s what the bill itself says about these two items:

“That notwithstanding section 604(a) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act and section 1452(a)(1)(D) of the Safe Drinking Water Act, funds appropriated herein shall be provided to States that have received a major disaster declaration pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (42 U.S.C. 5121 et seq.) for Hurricane Sandy: Provided further, That no eligible state shall receive less than two percent of such funds: Provided further, That funds appropriated herein shall not be subject to the matching or cost share requirements of sections 602(b)(2), 602(b)(3) or 202 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act nor the matching requirements of section 1452(e) of the Safe Drinking Water Act: Provided further, That notwithstanding the requirements of section 603(d) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, for the funds appropriated herein, each State shall use not less than 50 percent of the amount of its capitalization grants to provide additional subsidization to eligible recipients in the form of forgiveness of principal, negative interest loans or grants or any combination of these: Provided further, That the funds appropriated herein shall only be used for eligible projects whose purpose is to reduce flood damage risk and vulnerability or to enhance resiliency to rapid hydrologic change or a natural disaster at treatment works as defined by section 212 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act or any eligible facilities under section 1452 of the Safe Drinking Water Act, and for other eligible tasks at such treatment works or facilities necessary to further such purposes: Provided further, That notwithstanding the definition of treatment works in section 212 of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, and subject to the purposes described herein, the funds appropriated herein shall be available for the purchase of land and easements necessary for the siting of eligible treatment works projects: Provided further, That the Administrator may retain up to $1,000,000 of the funds appropriated herein for management and oversight of the requirements of this section: Provided further, That such amounts are designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985.”

I defy anyone to link that language to Hurricane Sandy.

Conclusion

As usual, the media have completely failed to do their job.  Remember when reporters did the kind of digging I’ve done here?  I know, it’s been a long time, but consider the amount of work Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein put into Watergate.  Point me to a reporter working for a major media outlet today who’s working half that hard and I’ll be impressed.  I will concede that Jake Tapper (now CNN, previously ABC) is doing a pretty good job.  For his efforts he will no doubt be banned from the White House press room.

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About Tony Lima

Retired after teaching economics at California State Univ., East Bay (Hayward, CA). Ph.D., economics, Stanford. Also taught MBA finance at the California University of Management and Technology. Occasionally take on a consulting project if it's interesting. Other interests include wine and technology.

6 Replies to “The Hurricane Sandy Relief Bill Is 71 Percent Pork”

  1. SK

    Various government programs responded to Hurricane Sandy and spent money on disaster relief. Because of the scale of Hurricane Sandy, these programs require funding to cover both the money already spent on Sandy and future spending on Sandy. You are counting money spent to replenish the funds for these programs as pork, which is silly.

    Imagine I have a checking account and savings account. I keep enough money in the checking account to handle normal expenses for the month, and replenish it every 1st. Partway through October my basement floods and I spend $1500 from my checking account to repair the damage, depleting it, with another $500 in expenses I still need to pay. If I transfer $2000 from savings to checking only $500 of that money will be earmarked for flooding expenses, the rest will be spent on the food, utilities, etc. that I originally intended to use the checking account money on. Under your analysis, as only $500 would be earmarked for flooding spending, only $500 wouldn’t be “pork.” This is obviously absurd: a dollar spent on responding to a disaster is funding for that specific disaster whether or not it’s earmarked for future spending or a repayment of past spending.

    You also are referring to everything as a thousand-times too expensive: “trillions” instead of “billions,” etc. Did I accidentally stumble upon a test for your students, or is this a use of these numerical terms I’m not familiar with? Thanks!

  2. JackBraff

    Dear Dr Gonzo-

    You don’t seem to understand how flooding might make it hard to acquire clean water. This immediately draws my skepticism to the rest of your analysis of what would be “pork”.

    The entire assumption of your hard-hitting investigative journalism seems to be that unless things are specifically itemized, right now, that they must be pork. It is probably true we can specifically target certain areas that we can spend money on right away. But most of the money is being kept in reserve for any future disaster relief, and we don’t know yet where that’s going to have to go.

    2. Describing the bill overwhelmingly passed by the senate as “Porkulus Obama” makes you look like a wingnut.

  3. admin

    Gentle Readers,

    I have corrected the article replacing trillion with billion and, in one case, billion with million. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.

    I invite either or both of you to download the Excel workbook and make adjustments you believe will make the numbers reflect your beliefs. In turn, I will agree to post your analyses, along with any descriptive material you might want to submit.

    Regarding clean water, I have to remind Mr. Bratt that this is specifically for “State and Tribal” use. I am puzzled as to why Native Americans are included in this grant and look forward to your explanation.

    Regarding “wingnut” I’ve been called worse. Thank you for your comments.

  4. admin

    Thanks for pointing out my errors in orders of magnitude. I believe I have corrected the article.

    Please read my reply to Mr. Bratt in which I invite both of you to participate in this.

  5. Kevin

    So you said “”Repair at NASA facilities damaged by Sandy.” Problem: there are no NASA facilities in the affected areas.”
    Really? No facilities in the affected areas? Do you know where the NASA sites are before you made such claims? Just in case you don’t, this may help..
    http://www.nasa.gov/about/sites/index.html
    I’m counting 5 (possibly 6 if you want to count Florida) as NASA sites in the affected areas. After devoting so much time to go after “Porkulus Obama”, a little research shouldn’t seem like we’re asking too much. Btw, calling it “Porkulus Obama” automatically clarifies your position as making this an attack piece rather than a non-partisan, balanced view of the bill.
    Also, why do you assign so many things as “Sandy related” to be only 50%. You sometimes put 100% for some things and 50% for some things. Can you not pull out the non-Sandy items and break it down like you did with NOAA? And how can you not say that FEMA emergency loans for Hurricane Sandy victims is not related to Hurricane Sandy? I found so many puzzling things like this that it all seems absurd.

  6. admin

    I urge you to download the spreadsheet and make your own assumptions. I will happily post your results along with any explanations you would care to offer. There is one caveat: if you just say 100 percent of that bill is Sandy-related, you will be ignored. Not agreeing with my work is fine. Failing to do the work yourself is not acceptable.