The Corner

Cantor, White House Spar Over Disaster Relief

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.), whose district includes the town determined to be the epicenter of last week’s east-coast earthquake, has drawn the ire of many on the left for suggesting that federal disaster relief to repair damage from both the earthquake and Hurricane Irene should be “offset with appropriate savings or cost-cutting elsewhere” in the federal budget. 

Earlier today, White House press secretary Jay Carney joined the fray:

Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Carney said the federal government’s priority should be to respond to the disaster. He also noted that Cantor (R-Va.) hadn’t demanded offsets when the Bush administration rang up “unprecedented bills.”

“I guess I can’t help but say that I wish that commitment to looking for offsets had been held by the House majority leader and others, say, during the previous administration when they ran up unprecedented bills and never paid for them,” Carney said, according to a White House pool report.

The White House spokesman said it was premature to make a decision yet on the costs of Hurricane Irene for the federal government. “The principle (is) that when we’re having a natural disaster and an emergency situation … our priority has to be responding to the disaster and helping those regions and states recover,” Carney said.

First of all, if we have really reached the point, as the administration seems to be implying, that we cannot find a few billion dollars worth of savings in the federal budget to offset much-needed disaster relief, we might as well default right now, because if we can’t do that, we’ll never be able to pay off our total debt bill of $14.7 trillion and counting. (Initial estimates of put the total cost of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene between $7 billion and $13 billion. Damage from the recent earthquake was far less severe and will likely incur a much smaller tab.) 

Secondly, the Republican House has already acted in this regard, by passing a Homeland Security appropriations bill for fiscal year 2012 that includes funding to replenish the FEMA disaster fund, which is running low. That funding was offset with spending cuts. The Senate, in typical fashion, has yet to take up the bill.

The Obama administration has not made any funding requests for emergency disaster relief, even in response to the extensive damage caused by tornados in Joplin, Mo., back in May. Because the Senate has failed to act, FEMA’s limited funds must now be transferred away from the Joplin relief effort to address the damage caused by Hurricane Irene. A House GOP aide tells National Review Online that Republicans will take appropriate action in the event that such a request is made, but are unable to do so until the administration makes the call.

Today, Carney ducked reporters’ questions about whether the White House thought additional funds would be necessary to cover the relief effort. “Well, again, I don’t want to get ahead of an estimate about whether or not additional funding will be required,” he said.

“Clearly when disasters and emergencies happen, people expect their government to treat them as national priorities and respond properly,” the aide tells NRO. “People also expect their government to spend their dollars wisely, and to make efforts to prioritize and save when possible. They aren’t and shouldn’t be considered mutually exclusive concepts. Since when is saying we should find money to pay for things a ‘political’ position?”

Andrew Stiles — Andrew Stiles is a political reporter for National Review Online. He previously worked at the Washington Free Beacon, and was an intern at The Hill newspaper. Stiles is a 2009 ...

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