The borough’s lone Republican congressman is poised to battle his own party’s leadership — and put his budget-cutting credentials on the line — to make sure that Brooklyn gets more Hurricane Irene relief money.
Rep. Michael Grimm (R–Bay Ridge) told The Brooklyn Paper that he opposes a move by powerful House Majority Leader Eric Cantor to require that any new disaster funds be offset by cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.
“I’m not going to pull any punches [but] I have a fight on my hands,” said Grimm, who added that he would vote against any bill that holds emergency expenditures hostage to other budget reductions.
“I believe that government should have a very limited role, but one of those roles [is] to make sure that the community is rebuilt and it’s safe and built to certain standards,” he said.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency so far has released funds for the city to remove debris and do initial repairs, but that excludes compensation for homeowners and businesses. Additional FEMA funding will be debated when the House returns to session next week — with Cantor dictating the terms of the debate for now.
The Virginia Republican has said that any additional disaster relief — which could hit $7 billion for the East Coast — should be paid for with spending cuts.
“Just like any family would operate when its stuck with disaster,” Cantor told Fox News last Monday. “It finds the money it needs to take care of a sick loved one and goes without buying a new car or put a new addition on a house. We’re going to find the money — we’re just going to need to make sure that there are savings elsewhere to continue to do so.”
Bay Ridge Democrats found themselves in the awkward position of backing Grimm on the issue.
“Debating the budget is important, but not when people’s lives are at stake,” said Councilman Vince Gentile (D–Bay Ridge) “Federal disaster response is not and should not be a partisan issue.”
Hurricane Irene did not wreak as much havoc on Brooklyn as was expected, but damage from flooding and downed trees in the borough are still being tallied. New York State has an estimated $1 billion in total damages.
Grimm has had to walk a thin line as a rising Tea Party star elected in a Democratic-leaning district, and he tends to vote less with his party leadership than most conservatives in his party, according to the website Govtrack.
But he has also toed the Republican line on key votes his first year in office, voting for the controversial Paul Ryan budget plan that would have weakened Medicare by replacing it with block grants to states; and voting to defund NPR. He also wanted to block Planned Parenthood from getting federal funds.
He also complained that budget cuts agreed to by President Obama and the House leadership after last month’s debate over the debt ceiling “did not go nearly far enough.”
Brooklyn Republicans say this would be the first time Grimm has squared off with party leadership over something as central to the Republican agenda as budget cuts, though he has criticized his own party for being recalcitrant during budget negotiations, calling the Tea Party “the extreme wing of the Republican Party,” in March.
“This is the first time he has been against something along these lines,” said Glenn Nocera, president of the Brooklyn Young Republican Club.
At the same time, bringing home the bacon trumps party principles.
“It’s the same for every congressman,” said Nocera. “They’re going to try to get the money back to their district.”
Some Democrats said that Grimm’s stance against Cantor simply proves that the freshman is caught between two masters.
“It depends on which Michael Grimm you’re talking about — the one who ran as a Tea Party candidate, or the one that now slams the Tea Party,” said one Democratic operative in Grimm’s district. “That all depends on which way the wind is blowing on that particular day.”
For at least this day, Grimm said the prevailing wind was one of compassion.
“There’s no question that the government should play a much more limited role in our lives than it currently does,” he said. “But protecting life and property are the fundamental responsibilities of government. If we were under attack, we wouldn’t call a budget meeting.”