An over-the-top, outrageous New York Daily News front page yesterday depicted the Statue of Liberty from the back, dripping blood from a graphic knife wound in full color. The boxcar-size headline screamed: "STABBED IN THE BACK -- NY pols blast Sandy betrayer Boehner."
Although I’m no fan of the often-vulgar, bottom-feeding approach of the New York tabloids -- and usually the Post is the worst offender -- this was a case where the media punishment fit the politicians’ crime.
It reminded me of the famous Daily News headline in October 1975 during the waning days of the Gerald Ford presidency, when the city was teetering on the precipice of bankruptcy: "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD." Ford had delivered a speech promising to veto any bill calling for a federal bailout of New York City. In that pre-Internet, pre-cable news era, it took longer for the outcry to force a turnaround. But in November, Ford did a 180 and asked Congress to approve federal loans for the city, saving it from fiscal disaster.
Boehner, who seems to cry on cue as an example of his great humanitarianism, made the cynical political calculation on Tuesday to leave the thousands of still-suffering Hurricane Sandy victims high and dry, so to speak, by not allowing the House to vote on an already long-delayed $60 million rescue package.
His explanation, according to aides, was that most of his House Republicans had been so resistant to the fiscal-cliff agreement passed at 11 p.m. Tuesday that they would turn against any help for the New York-New Jersey coastal region, viewing it as unpaid-for "stimulus" spending. Boehner, undoubtedly mindful that he was up for imminent re-election as House Speaker, feared the bill would fail, another embarrassment to add to his "Plan B" debacle of the previous week.
Instead, Boehner unleashed a furious firestorm of sizzling criticism from politicians of both parties on the House floor and in media interviews on Wednesday. The House Speaker was reminded that in 2005, it took Congress only 10 days to approve the same-sized aid package for Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans and nearby Gulf Coast regions, and 12 days to approve $600 million for Texas and 12 other Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Ike in 2008. (Sandy struck 66 days ago).
Of course, those were pre-tea party days when a modicum of bipartisanship survived on Capitol Hill and when most members of Congress agreed that a legitimate role of the federal government was to toss a substantial lifeline of assistance in the aftermath of natural disasters. Now, of course, a majority of House Republicans believes that the best U.S. government is no government, except when it comes to the Pentagon.
Surely, Boehner was stunned by the vituperative, and well-deserved, blasts from Republican leaders that greeted him on Wednesday morning. Republican Congressman Peter King of Long Island denounced the postponement of a vote on the aid package as a "cruel knife in the back" to New York and New Jersey -- a remark that clearly inspired the Daily News front-page designers.
King, his voice quavering, went on to declare that "anyone from New York or New Jersey who contributes one penny to Congressional Republicans is out of their minds."
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, rising to full-throated fury and indignation once again, held a news conference in Trenton where, at full volume, he thundered: "Shame on you. Shame on Congress. Our people were played last night as a pawn. And that’s why people hate Washington."
The $60 million package, already approved by the Senate last week, would help struggling homeowners and small-business proprietors to rebuild, while restoring eroded beaches, funding subway and rail-line repairs and reimbursing local governments for police and firefighter overtime as well as related services.
Against the onslaught of invective -- amid hints that many Republicans are biased against the New York-New Jersey area even though it’s a major source of big-bucks campaign financing for the party -- Boehner caved on Wednesday afternoon and promised a Friday vote on $9 million of flood-insurance aid, and a Jan. 15 vote on the remaining $51 million.
The House leader, who comes from a humble Catholic, Democratic background as one of 12 kids whose dad kept a bar in the Cincinnati suburbs, is described as a permanently-tanned chain-smoker, a glad-hander with TV star hair, a sharp dresser and a close confidante of lobbyists and tea party activists.
Although Sen. Charles Schumer, in a conciliatory gesture, described the House leader as a "good person," I beg to differ with the New York Democrat. This is the politician who hates Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid so much that he recently told him to his face to go Š (unprintable). You can Google the exact words.
In 2006, Boehner had to apologize after handing out checks from a tobacco industry political-action committee on the House floor, the Daily News reported.
"Yes, I am cozy with lobbyists," Boehner told his GOP colleagues in 2006, as chronicled by the Washington Post. "But I have never done anything unethical."
Even his concession to bipartisan criticism by scheduling belated votes on Sandy aid is too little, too late, and reflects contempt for the sufferings of ordinary folks like the family that enabled him to be the first of 12 siblings to graduate from college.
Boehner and his supporters are on track to hold the country hostage when final debt-ceiling and government-spending deadlines approach in seven weeks. Based on this week’s brouhaha, we can only hold our collective breath as we await the next stab in the back against the middle class and the poor who are held in such contempt by most Capitol Hill Republicans.
Clarence Fanto is a regular Eagle contributor. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.