Eighteen people have died as a result of Hurricane Irene. There has been over $3 billon in property damage from the hurricane and the earth quake that hit the East Coast last week—and the toll is still rising. States from North Carolina to the Canadian border have been declared disaster areas making them eligible for federal assistance.
To most, this disaster is a terrible thing. To Republicans, it is an opportunity for political exploitation.
Michelle Bachmann (RTP-MN) sees it a message from God, (presumably showing his displeasure with election of Obama). Ron Paul uses it as a chance to renew his call to eliminate FEMA. House Republican Leader Eric Cantor (RTP-VA) sees the disaster is an opportunity to further shrink government to please Grover Norqust who wants the government “small enough to drown in a bath tub.”
Cantor’s position: Disaster relief must be tied to budget cuts like Joplin
Since the very beginning of the Republic, the federal government has assisted the states with financial aid when natural or man-made disasters struck. Never before has this federal aid come with strings. Never before has aid been withheld until Congress passed, and the President signed a bill off setting the disaster relief with cuts to already authorized spending. Not until Eric Cantor and his band of Tea Party ideologues rose to power.
Cantor, as he did with Joplin, has demanded that any federal aid to the earth quake or Hurricane Irene victims must be off set by additional spending cuts. These cuts would be on top of the $1.5 trillion in cuts the debt ceiling law mandated.
Given how smoothly Congress deals with anything, let alone spending cuts, this could be a serious set back to those who are victims of these recent disasters. No one but a fool believes that bi-partisan consensus can be reached on these additional cuts. This fight will make the debt ceiling fight look like rehearsal.
Cantor sees this as an opportunity to blackmail Democrats and President Obama. He believes they will cave into new rounds of cuts because otherwise the Republicans will accuse them of blocking federal disaster aid. He sees a silver lining in those storm clouds.
Cantor stopped disaster relief for victims of the Joplin Tornado until he brow beat Congress into cutting a popular green energy program initiated by Obama. His targets in this round of off setting spending certainly does not include cuts to the bloated defense budget, or cuts in subsidies to big oil, or subsidies to corporations engaged in agri-business. It will not come from closing any tax loopholes. His targets surely are programs like green energy, education, infrastructure spending, or healthcare.
Cantor and GOP Tea could be over reaching
It is possible that Cantor and his Republican Tea Party followers might be over reaching a bit on this one. The trauma over the debt ceiling debate, the S & P downgrade, and the failing economy might have take some of the steam out of the budget cut locomotive. Americans may feel that spending has been addressed by the debt ceiling bill, and now something needs to be done about jobs.
Americans have never turned their back on victims of a disaster. It is not in the American psyche. Americans are the most generous people on earth. It is not likely that the American people would support the Republicans if they try and hold disaster relief hostage for political games—not in this economy. That will not deter them from trying.
So, the week after Labor Day will be an interesting one in DC. Too bad the stakes are so high.
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