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The Briefing: Chasing the wrong problems

WASHINGTON – It's not much money by Washington standards, just a lousy $9.8 million.

But the moving of that money – from the agency that reacts to hurricanes to one that detains undocumented immigrants – seems to have come at the wrong time.

Moreover, it stands as a symbol of so much that's wrong with your federal government, which so often lately seems to be chasing down lesser problems while letting the big ones fester, or even actively making them worse.

With a historic hurricane bearing down on the Carolinas, Sen. Jeff Merkley went on the Rachel Maddow Show on MNSBC on Tuesday with some disturbing news he pretty much got in the mail. The Oregon Democrat got a notice, as required by law, that the Department of Homeland Security moved that $9.8 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

To be specific, money that had been intended for “Preparedness and Protection” and “Response and Recovery” was retargeted toward “Detention Beds” and the ICE “Transportation and Removal Program.”

Merkley wasn't pleased.

"This is a scandal," he said in a statement. "It wasn’t enough to rip thousands of children out of the arms of their parents — the administration chose to partly pay for this horrific program by taking away from the ability to respond to damage from this year’s upcoming and potentially devastating hurricane season.”

DHS spokesman Tyler Q. Houlton denied the obvious, which in this case means denying the documented.

But really, where is federal money more urgently needed – at FEMA in the face of a storm four times the size of Ohio, or at ICE to fight the supposed crisis of undocumented immigrants swarming the southern border? Which is likely to cause more damage – a hurricane or illegal immigrants?

The hurricane, of course.

After all, it's hard to imagine undocumented immigrants driving a million people from their homes as Florence will, or racking up $170 billion in property damage, which is what the monster hurricane could do.

So in shifting that money from FEMA to ICE, the federal government is denying the obvious in favor of pursuing the ridiculous – which seems to be becoming a national trend.

To wit:

• The Trump administration continued its war on clean air this week by announcing plans to repeal Obama-era rules limiting the discharge of methane into the atmosphere, calling them a burden on the energy industry.

Now this repeal is indeed great news for anyone who drills fracked oil or gas wells, which release methane into the air, but bad news for anyone who worries about climate change. Methane is, after carbon dioxide, the second-biggest contributor to climate change and global warming, scientists say, which will likely produce more hurricanes like Florence.

• While cracking down on illegal immigration, the Trump administration is cutting back legal immigration, too. It wants to penalize legal immigrants who utilize tax credits and other benefits. It's cutting back on visas for highly skilled immigrants. And it's reduced the number of refugees allowed into America to a trickle.

President Trump does all of this, arguing, with faulty data, that immigrants hurt American workers and their wages. Meantime, he touts the low 3.9 percent unemployment rate, but ignores the labor shortages that are popping up nationwide – which, of course, could be solved by allowing more legal immigrants into the country.

• You might think that Republicans, who spent decades preaching fiscal responsibility, might be concerned about the fact that the GOP Congress and GOP president racked up more debt in one year than the nation did in the first 200 years of its existence.

They did that by cutting taxes and bowing to Democratic demands for more spending.

And now, instead of trying to find a way to pay for the federal government rather than foisting its cost onto their children, Republicans have an opposite plan. They want to cut taxes again! The cost of that: $2 trillion more in debt over 10 years!

Only time will tell how all this will feel for future generations – those who will pay for the decisions of a government that led by whim rather than wisdom.

Happening today

The Senate Judiciary Committee considers Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the nomination of John L. Sinatra Jr. for a federal judgeship in Buffalo…The Senate Agriculture Committee holds a hearing on Trump’s trade policies…The House Foreign Affairs Committee holds a hearing on a resolution that would require the Trump administration to turn over all his communications with Russian President Vladimir Putin…The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds a hearing on "Evaluating Federal Disaster Response and Recovery Efforts'' with Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator William B. "Brock'' Long….Former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) address the Building a High Wage America summit, hosted by the Economic Policy Institute and The Century Foundation.

Good reads

Vox sums up three polls showing Democrats coming on strong before the midterm elections...The Atlantic tells us that James Madison would be appalled by modern American politics...Politico says President Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau can fix NAFTA if they stop sniping...The New York Times reports that at the epicenter of the 2008 financial crisis, another real estate bubble is developing...And The Washington Post says Puerto Ricans think the federal government failed in its response to Hurricane Maria.

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