ADVERTISEMENT

So, this is what American politics has come to. An unimaginably large and powerful storm lays waste to the most populous region in the country and Congress, ignoring its duty to act in the face of crisis, does nothing. Too bad, New York. Tough luck, New Jersey. Take care, Connecticut.

If the refusal of House Speaker John A. Boehner to call a vote on providing federal aid to the states devastated by Hurricane Sandy is not a modern low for Congress, then we shudder to think what is.

Let us be clear: This is the fault of the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Even the filibuster-happy Republicans in the Senate went along with providing this critical assistance. But Boehner didn’t, to the outrage of Republicans in the states affected.

Rep. Peter King of Long Island called Boehner’s action a “cruel knife in the back” and suggested that New Yorkers stop donating to Republicans who have “no problem finding New York when it comes to raising money.” New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said members of Congress “use the citizens of this country like pawns on a chess board” and accused the House leadership of displaying “callous indifference to the suffering of the people of my state.”

They are both correct. Even in the toxic political environment precipitated by the tea party right, Congress should be able to fulfill its duty to respond quickly to a natural disaster. It has been more than two months since Sandy raked the nation’s East Coast, leaving tens of thousands of Americans homeless and affecting more than 300,000 businesses. And Congress has done nothing. It’s a disgrace.

Boehner offered neither explanation nor defense of his decision to stick it to the East Coast, though we suspect things would have been different if his home state of Ohio had been damaged. The suspicion – likely correct – is that in the aftermath of the manufactured “fiscal cliff” crisis, there was fear that the tea partyers were too miffed to be counted on.

In the face of criticism he evidently didn’t expect – where does this guy live? – Boehner reversed himself and scheduled a vote on Sandy relief for Jan. 15. Will it pass? Who can tell?

It is plain at this point that the national Republican Party is a dysfunctional mess that no one can rely on for leadership or even common sense. That’s a difficult enough problem to deal with on matters of taxes and spending. It’s intolerable when the issues are life and death.