Want to win an argument about an excruciatingly sensitive topic like, say, how best to aid the victims of Superstorm Sandy? Watch how Iowa Republican Steve King did it yesterday. Then do the exact opposite.
King, who is running for a sixth term in the House against Democrat Christie Vilsack, was arguing that Congress shouldn't approve additional funds for relief efforts on the East Coast without a detailed spending plan from the government, in order to make sure the money doesn't go to waste. In the process, he let loose with the following aside about Katrina's Victims (per the Huffington Post):
"I want to get them the resources that are necessary to lift them out of this water and the sand and the ashes and the death that's over there in the East Coast and especially in the Northeast," King said during a Tuesday evening debate in Mason City, Iowa.
"But not one big shot to just open up the checkbook, because they spent it on Gucci bags and massage parlors and everything you can think of in addition to what was necessary," he said later, referring to Hurricane Katrina.
The phrase "Gucci bags and massage parlors" sounds frighteningly close to a dog whistle a la "welfare queens." Whatever his intention, though, it appears King was gesturing towards a substantive point. Over the disastrous course of its Katrina relief efforts through February of 2006, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) handed out between $600 million and $1.4 billion dollars in "improper or potentially fraudulent" aid payments to actual Hurricane victims as well as con artists posing as them, according to a pair of reports by the Government Accountability Office (GAO). About 16 percent of the total disaster assistance payments were eaten up that way. People used fake addresses, social security numbers from prison inmates, and other ruses to collect cash from the government.
FEMA tried to speed up some of these payments to Katrina's survivors by handing out $2,000 debit cards, meant to cover basics like food and clothes. But, as the GAO dryly noted, "debit cards were used for items or services such as a Caribbean vacation, professional football tickets, and adult entertainment, which do not appear to be necessary to satisfy disaster-related needs as defined by FEMA regulations."