Hurricane Irene, Eric Cantor, and the Republican Hostage-Taking Politics of Disaster Relief

Hurricane Irene, currently a Category 3 slamming the Bahamas, is heading directly for the U.S. It is expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday:

Airline flights and events were canceled or postponed in advance of Hurricane Irene, a dangerous storm that is expected to bring widespread damage, power outages and flooding from North Carolina to New England.

A hurricane warning was issued Thursday for coastal North Carolina from Little River Inlet north to the Virginia border, including the Pamlico, Albemarle and Currituck sounds, the National Hurricane Center said.

At a time like this, of course, it is essential that government emergency services, particularly federal, be ready to help those areas that need relief. Think of the people who will need food and shelter, the infrastructure that will need to be repaired and possibly rebuilt, the devastation that may soon come.

Think back to Katrina. We learned a lot from that catastrophe, did we not?

Well, not all of us.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor didn’t — or at least doesn’t care.

Just as Republicans held the country hostage over the debt ceiling (“give us what we want, or else”), Cantor is now trying to do the same over disaster relief (some of which may be needed in his home state of Virginia, which is in Irene’s path). As his spokesperson explained, “Eric has consistently said that additional funds for federal disaster relief ought to be offset with spending cuts.”

It’s one thing to demand offsets in theory, or even at the negotiating table, quite another to do so with a major hurricane bearing down, with a natural disaster possibly at hand. It would be like if a dying man desperately needed a blood transfusion but you refused to give him any unless he gave you his house and car. (Which is actually how health care works in the U.S., but let’s not go there.)

This was Cantor’s response to the earthquake that caused significant damage along the east coast, including in Virginia, it’s his response to Irene, and it’s his response to disaster relief generally. No money unless money is cut elsewhere. In other words: Give us what we want, or else. And you can be sure he won’t agree to cuts to military spending. He just wants to cut programs he’s ideologically opposed to — relatively insignificant funding for, say, public broadcasting, or more significant funding for the poor and those who otherwise are vulnerable and need government help, like Social Security and Medicare.

Consider the message he’s sending to the people along the east coast, in Irene’s path. We’ll help you but only if we can also weaken programs that help you. You get some disaster relief, but, otherwise, screw you. That’s what this comes down to. (Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has pre-emptively declared a state of emergency. Cantor apparently doesn’t care.)

This is cruel and unusual. As Steve Benen provides perspective:

A while back, during a different debate, John Cole noted, “If these guys were comic book villains, no one would buy it because it’s just too over the top.” It’s a sentiment that comes to mind all the time.

Tom DeLay never went this far. No one has ever gone this far. U.S. officials have always put everything else aside when families and communities are hit and need a hand, but now, thanks to the new House Republican majority, those principles have been cast aside.

*****

We can obviously hope for the best when it comes to Hurricane Irene, but at this point, Republicans are apparently intent on literally adding insult to injury.

“Adding insult” is a nice way to put it. This is ugly ideological extremism operating as insensitivity to suffering, political hostage-taking with lives and livelihoods in the balance.

In 2011, it’s the Republican way.

(Cross-posted from The Reaction.)

6 Comments

  1. The ideological extremes will see this at both ends of the spectrum.

    The far left and Bush Republicans will say, “spend the money now, future generations can pay for it like they have since the 80′s.

    The far right will say,”its not the federal governments position to pay for disaster recovery without offsetting spending cuts no matter how bad.”

    Then there may be those moderates that look at the problem and say “yes we need to pay for the disaster relief, but how are we going to do this and not have a plan to offset the expenditure. There has to be a way to provide the funding and not run up more debt for future generations, no matter how insignificant in the total amount of debt this may be. What tax could be raised or what combination of tax and spending could be effected.”

    The problems in America today are the politicians that offer no solutions, but just offer talking points that will sell to their voters to get reelected and continue their government career. The problems in America are also the journalist that offer no debate on subjects, just attack a position without asking hard questions to everyone. In this case “how are we going to pay for this?”

    A home owner that has a disaster and has to spend money to rebuild or fix property will look at their budget and say, “we have $XXX.XX coming in, we have $XXXX.XX going out due to the problem, so we need to cut $X.XX to balance our budget.”

    Seems like the feds should do the same.

  2. I’m sure Cantor has an open market solution to hurricane relief. Like the one used during Katrina. Surely there is some way to make this a profitable and therefore marketable event. Think of all the jobs that rebuilding will create after the gov’t just gets the hell out of the way and the free market invisible hands swings into action to help people pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This man’s vision and political astuteness has finally won me over, I’m joining the Tea Party.

  3. Like a lot of things, it’s more complicated than the author implies. Disaster relief requires planning and preparation, which should be paid for up front. How does a government that can’t run day-to-day operations without borrowing from foreigners prepare for unexpected disasters?

    There’s also the problem of encouraging people to build where it’s not practical, or in impractical ways, but that gets even more complicated.

    Once again, we get partisan blathering when we need some serious discussion and foresight.

  4. “There’s also the problem of encouraging people to build where it’s not practical, or in impractical ways, but that gets even more complicated.”

    Yes, it’s particularly complicated considering that there are natural disasters of one type or another pretty much everywhere anyone would be able to build.

  5. Why would anyone expect less from a politician so steeped in hypocrisy and cynicism? One need only look at his record of statements and positions to see this sort of idiocy is entirely consistent.

  6. This new form of negotiating the peoples business is outrageous, callous, if not UN-American who do these guys think they are? Are they taking political guidance from the Mexican Cartels because I think this amounts to extortion, holding citizens well being hostage, what next kidnapping. Stop the Republican Blockade and bring an end to this Corporate Oligarchy and its blind neglect of middle and working class Americans

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