About a generation ago, Gerald R. Ford arguably lost the the 1976 presidential election by refusing to let the federal government lend New York City any money to finance its ballooning debt. In the face of a near bankruptcy that would have sent the nation's then largest metropolis -- along with its seven million inhabitants and the lucrative national franchise known as Wall Street -- into a death spiral, Ford chose to troll for votes everywhere else.
This prompted one of the city's two remaining tabloids, the Daily News, to run a headline that became iconic -- "Ford to City: Drop Dead."
It seems that some political parties never learn.
John Boehner -- Ohio Republican, Speaker of the House, ostensible deficit hawk but really one of the myriad defenders of a new Gilded Age where a 39.6 percent marginal tax rate is just too much for your average billionaire -- refused Tuesday to allow the House of Representatives to vote on the $60 billion dollar aid package for Hurricane Sandy's victims. The Senate had already passed the bill. And the House stayed in session until near midnight to make sure the rest of the country, including all those red staters, were not forced to suffer a New Year's day tax increase.
But Boehner wouldn't let them vote on the Sandy aid package.
I guess they were too tired.
This has created what amounts to a political meltdown among New York, New Jersey and Connecticut Republicans -- yes, Virginia, they do exist.
The Jersey Shore, New York City's Rockaways, the South Shore of Long Island and large parts of Connecticut's Sound Shore can double these days as accurate movie sets for remakes of Saving Private Ryan's opening scenes from World War II's Normandy beaches. Thousands of homes lay in ruins in the wake of Sandy. Thousands more are partially or wholly uninhabitable. My wife's cousin in Monmouth Beach, NJ lost her whole first floor -- furniture and all -- to the Atlantic Ocean, and has been living for the last two months in a friend's condo. Another cousin in Belle Harbor, a section of NYC's Rockaways, needs $100k to make his house once again a suitable home. Still other relatives across Jamaica Bay in Canarsie lost three cars parked in the street when flood waters turned that Brooklyn neighborhood into a lake.
And these were the lucky people.
Breezy Point, on the far western end of the Rockaways, literally went up in smoke as flooded but live electrical connections ignited a bonfire that quickly consumed more than eighty sardine-packed homes on what locals affectionately call the Irish Riviera. Even if sufficient numbers of first responders could have crossed the Gil Hodges Bridge that connects Breezy to Brooklyn -- and they couldn't given the high winds -- New York's bravest still would have been stopped by flooding that made it impossible for the trucks to get to the flames.
So, in one fell swoop, the dreams of hundreds of very middle income families were destroyed by Sandy. None of these denizens of an outer-borough, as they are known in Manhattan, showed up in Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe's 1987 punch at this Gilded Age's traders and financiers who always seem to have first call on the nation's resources. And none of them park their assets on Wall Street or manage their portfolios from their beach houses.
Their little spit of summer sunshine on the Irish Riviera was their principal asset.
For many, it was their only asset.
NJ Gov. Chris Christie is mad. So are Rep. Peter King, Rep. Michael Grimm and Staten Island's Borough President James Molinaro. They are all Republicans, and right about now they are in the mood to assert their own Second Amendment rights and storm what is left of the dysfunctional GOP caucus in Washington, DC. During the height of the Sandy crisis, President Obama was calling Christie at midnight to offer federal help; Boehner wouldn't even take Christie's first four phone calls as the governor tried to get the speaker to schedule a vote in the House.
Memo to Chris -- when the other guy calls at midnight and your own guy won't even pick up the phone, maybe it's time to choose a new side.
Rep. King had perhaps the best take on this latest GOP meltdown. "These people have no problem finding New York when it comes to raising money. They only have a problem when it comes to allocating," said King. He then added that anyone from the tri-state area who donates campaign money to Republicans "should have his head examined." Molinaro was a bit more succinct -- "They're a bunch of idiots."
The "idiots," as is their wont, blamed everyone but themselves. Rep. Darrell Issa said the Senate bill was pork, laden with "non-essential" funding. If it was, there couldn't have been much. The bill allocated $60 billion to the three states, a mere drop in the bucket for anyone worried about the deficit (which won't be helped much if the Jersey Shore is closed for business this summer) and small potatoes given the scope of the disaster.
In a move that was all profile and no courage, Boehner's office responded to the onslaught of criticism by announcing there will be a vote on Friday, apparently after the new Congress, which is to be sworn in Thursday, assembles. Peter King, however, is not convinced. As he noted, most of the Republicans do not support the Sandy Relief Bill. Boehner, who already had problems with his caucus before yesterday, arguably did not improve his position by voting in favor of not falling off the fiscal cliff, which a majority of GOP members also opposed, and can't be eager to make them walk another plank.
Nonetheless, the 112th Congress is now gone. It will vote no more.
Maybe the new one will do better.
It clearly cannot do any worse.