OUR OPINION: Cochran, Wicker both vote for Sandy relief bill

By NEMS Daily Journal

Mississippi’s U.S. senators, Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, were on the prevailing bipartisan side in a vote during the weekend to provide $60.4 billion in special supplemental appropriations to help states in the path of Hurricane Sandy recover from that vicious storm’s wrath – a bipartisan vote similar to those following Hurricane Katrina that helped Mississippi and other states begin rebuilding from that killer storm’s devastation.
The bipartisan approval had been a work in progress since Sandy struck the East Coast only days before the presidential election in early November.
Still, final approval is not assured because well-placed sources on Capitol Hill expect less enthusiasm in the House – even though some of its members with even more geographic specificity represent areas of heaviest damage and the highest death tolls.
As Cochran noted in his official statement about the vote, “The disaster supplemental appropriations package developed by the administration and the Senate majority is far from perfect, but I believe it is important that federal assistance be provided in a timely manner.”
The bill approved by the Senate also includes provisions based on the Disaster Recovery Act (S.1630) to improve federal responses following major disasters; that bill was introduced by senators Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Cochran last September.
Cochran and Landrieu know the necessity of federal disaster recovery – generous provision for destruction beyond isolated incidents. They both worked through it in 2005 after Katrina.
The provisions in the bill from the Cochran-Landrieu sponsorship are designed for efficiency:
• Expand access to the independent arbitration panels put in place by Landrieu and Cochran for Hurricane Katrina.
• Reduce costs and remove bureaucratic hurdles by allowing local communities to voluntarily agree with FEMA on a binding reasonable cost to repair a facility.
• Reduce costs and remove bureaucratic red tape by allowing communities to group similar structures together, and also by allowing a small portion of funding for projects to be provided up front so that rebuilding can begin as soon as possible.
• Encourage agencies to develop unified environmental and historic preservation review procedures for disasters rather than the current practice of requiring duplicative reviews from each agency.
Bipartisanship is mostly common sense in adapting what works.
We hope the same wisdom eventually fully prevails on the fiscal cliff.