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June 03, 2011 1:40 PM Barbour rejects GOP line on disaster aid

By Steve Benen

This year, congressional Republicans have created a new standard for disaster relief funds. They’re willing to aid American communities suffering after a natural disaster, but only if the emergency funds are offset by budget cuts elsewhere.

Congress has never operated this way — even Tom DeLay didn’t support such an approach — but we also haven’t seen a majority-party caucus this extreme in modern history.

It comes as a pleasant surprise, then, to see a prominent Republican leader argue publicly that his party is wrong about this.

Governor Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) broke with his own party’s leadership in the House of Representatives on Friday, arguing that Congress should not offset money appropriated for disaster relief.

Speaking to reporters after his speech at the Faith and Freedom conference, Barbour argued that money to respond to natural disasters was both inherently unpredictable in its amount and immediate in its need.

“I think disaster relief is not predictable,” Barbour said. “Emergencies caused by tornadoes, hurricanes are not predictable. Even if Congress — which as far as I know they never have — set aside a pot of money as some have proposed, and said, ‘Okay, this is money we’re going to use to pay for disaster relief’ — if they were to do that and we had a gigantic disaster that cost much more than that, surely Congress would come back and appropriate the extra money. And if they didn’t have a place to offset it, they should still go in and do it.”

Well, sure. Of course they should. The problem is that congressional Republicans have been so twisted by an extremist ideology, their priorities have been skewed.

Barbour, it’s worth noting, is not an entirely disinterested observer. His home state of Mississippi is frequently threatened by hurricanes — and last year, oil spills — so Barbour has an interest in looking after his state. I can hope other Republican governors, from states that aren’t routinely confronted with natural disasters, would feel the same way, but we don’t know that for sure.

Regardless, Eric Cantor and others pushing this line deserve to feel some heat over their callousness, and it’s heartening that Barbour, a former RNC chairman and party big-shot, arguing against his party’s position.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Grumpy on June 03, 2011 1:45 PM:

    I saw The Daily Show respond to Cantor's analogy with a family facing a medical emergency. What Jon Stewart didn't mention was that, in such a case, a family would rely on *insurance* to cover the gap. For disaster aid, the government is less like the family balancing its budget and more like the insurance company spreading the cost of risks.

  • bleh on June 03, 2011 1:46 PM:

    No no, you obviously misunderstand.

    Barbour -- and I suspect Cantor as well, along with McConnell, etc. -- are okay with federal disaster aid to white people, especially Southern white people. They just don't want (white) taxpayers' hard-earned dollars wasted on aid to black or brown people.

    This is no joke. My (white) Tennessee cousin complains bitterly about "paying for" flod aid to lower-income black residents along the river, but she somehow doesn't seem to mind funding the aid -- or the federally subsidized flood insurance -- for upper-income white homeowners.

    Republicans are, in the main, nasty, clannish, and deeply hypocritical. There's little reason to take their statements at all seriously, or to find virtue in flashes of humanity they appear to show.

  • kevo on June 03, 2011 1:51 PM:

    Cantor and his ilk represent the mean streak of Euro-American history! The same streak Natty Bumpo witnessed along the crossroads of the early Leatherstockings times here in America.

    Cantor, seemingly, can only think of the bottom line for people who look like him, but not for other Americans! His tit for tat governing is more fit for a Banana Republic than it is for my beloved country!

    Grow a heart you fucking idiot Cantor! -Kevo

  • JEA on June 03, 2011 2:00 PM:

    I'm going to write a book called "How Ideologues Change Their Mind When They're in the Path"...

  • Mitch on June 03, 2011 2:03 PM:

    Greed is good, and everything else is unimportant to some of these twisted monsters. I'm not going to pat Barbour on the back too much for this, though. He's in a disaster prone state, so he's just covering his bases (or his base, I suppose).

  • st john on June 03, 2011 3:00 PM:

    The offset is real easy. For every disaster dollar spent, take $10 from the Defense(read War) Dept. Problem solved. Eliminate one unneeded weapons system and the whole event is covered.

    Simple!

  • CDW on June 03, 2011 3:00 PM:

    I heard mara liasson giving her weekly report on the state of the republican party last weekend on NPR and she didn't even mention Cantor's statement.

  • JW on June 03, 2011 4:40 PM:

    Lest We Forget: California gets rocked by earthquakes. Earthquakes are capable of inflicting (in a matter of minutes) many, many times the damage to person and property than that suffered by states subject to hurricane or tornados.

    Californians also very stupidly built a nuclear reactor on their coastline, knowing full well that there is no such thing as any manmade structure being "earthquake proof". Of course, should worse come to worse, that scenario would also affect any states to its west (ha ha).

    Superfluous to note, sooner or later disaster will strike. Does anyone doubt the national GOP would follow the Joplin blueprint? Indeed, that it would take especial delight in subjecting the blue state to its vendetta politics?

    The republican party is literally the party of Rule or Ruin. That is not hyperbole. It is the stone cold truth.

    (I was raised on the San Andreas fault. I experienced Loma Prieta in '89. I know my earthquakes).

  • JW on June 03, 2011 4:46 PM:

    "..should worse come to worse, that scenario would also affect any states to its west (ha ha)".

    Of course, that should have read "east". Ha ha...

  • cwilheim on June 03, 2011 5:14 PM:

    It amuses me that so much of the destruction this year is to states that rail against FEMA and the federal government. Furthermore, most of these states are full of people who deny climate change.

    If I were a religious person, I might think God was trying to tell me something.

  • st john on June 03, 2011 5:48 PM:

    So, Cantor et al says to the disaster victims: suck it up if you cannot pay for it. But says to the banks, how much do you need to rescue you from your own self-created disaster? And the MSM is so fucked up it treats these morons as if they were rational human beings. They are reptilian brained ignoramuses and the sooner Darwin removes them from the food chain, the better for the rest of us.

    entionpr realon

  • toowearyforoutrage on June 06, 2011 8:09 AM:

    I'm not that upset about the idea of ALL emergency aid (and any other expenses) needing to be offset.

    Republicans' problem is their worship of Grover Norquist.
    Raising taxes temporarily for extraordinary circumstances (massive hurricane, tornado, three simultaneous wars, worst economic downturn since Herbet Hoover: you know, little stuff) are a way to attend to these things.

    The money for the aid doesn't come from nowhere. Saying it needs to be paid for IS a good policy. The spending caps that don't change with circumstance are the problem.

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