Don't Put Bureaucrats Ahead of Disaster Victims

Catastrophe is no excuse to saddle our children with debt.

Mark Reynolds sifts through debris Sunday, June 2, 2013, in El Reno, Okla. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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The devastation in the wake of the deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma breaks our hearts. Families lost loved ones, in many cases children, as well as homes and other property. While houses can be replaced, lives cannot. We continue to mourn with those who mourn the loss of loved ones in Oklahoma.

We cannot and will not forget about the victims of these and other disasters. Yet, as we grieve with those who have suffered such incredible loss, we must also have a national conversation about how we pay for the rebuilding effort after disasters such as this. Americans from both sides of the aisle should make sacrifices to prioritize the disaster aid for those who are impacted.

I believe we as a nation have an obligation to help those in need. Churches and charities across the country helped the good people of Oklahoma out of a heart of giving. Like many Americans, my grandfather and father came from a strong tradition of helping those in times of great need. They taught me that when disasters strike, you grab whatever is necessary – whether it be hammers or chainsaws.

[Read Rep. Cedric Richmond: Disaster Aid Shouldn't Be a Partisan Debate]

I also believe that while individuals and communities can't rely solely on Washington, there is an important role for the federal government to play. However, it is important that when catastrophe strikes, Washington doesn't saddle our children with more debt.

Without offsetting relief funds with cuts to government waste, politicians put bureaucrats ahead of disaster victims and abdicate their responsibility to pay for desperately needed aid.

Today, our national debt is pushing $17 trillion, more than $749,000 for every family in America. This slow-motion train wreck will have a devastating long-term impact on our children and grandchildren unless something is done. When Washington borrows more than 40 cents for every dollar it spends, we squander the next generation's future. Our kids deserve better.

To be clear, I am not advocating the federal government step aside when disaster strikes parts of our country in the form of natural disasters. The federal government has a role to play and, as Americans, we believe in lending a helping hand to those in need.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

This isn't a conversation about if the government helps. We need a conversation about how the government pays for it. Real help comes when Washington puts disaster relief ahead of government waste.

Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities for the federal government to save money in order to pay for the assistance our neighbors need in the wake of natural disasters. For instance, between 2010 and 2012 the IRS spent $49 million at more than 200 conferences. At one lush conference in Anaheim, Calif., tax collectors spent $4.1 million of taxpayer money. That's just as much as the IRS spends each year operating its own $4 million full-service TV studio.

It doesn't stop there. The National Science Foundation spent $1.2 million paying seniors to play video games. The federal government's free cell phone program will cost $2.2 billion this year alone. Federal bureaucrats spent $51.6 million last year to hire big-name PR firms and promote Obamacare.

Washington should get its priorities straight and put victims first. We have an obligation to put our neighbors in need ahead of wasteful federal programs. Both parties should come together to find real waste. The American people are ready to share the sacrifice so we can help families who are just beginning the long, painful process of rebuilding.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman is a Republican from Indiana.