To say that I don’t get House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is an understatement along the lines of calling the sack of Carthage a minor property crime. For all that he has one of the most powerful jobs in the nation he really seems to have missed the fact that he is supposed to work for the American people and specifically the people of his district.
Which is why is it is so appalling to hear him say that he will oppose federal assistance for the people in his district in response to the rare but large earthquake that hit Virginia this week. Okay, that is probably an overstatement, Rep. Cantor (R-Putz) is willing to let there be disaster aid, only as long as it paid for by cuts in other areas.
He is doubling down on this position (which he has expressed before when the tornadoes devastated Tuscaloosa Alabama this spring) that contrary to the long tradition of the US, there should be offsets considered when funding disaster relief.
The callousness that this betrays is shocking. Even when people in his own district are reeling from a completely unexpected event, he is still so worried about the deficit that he is willing to let them suffer. It is highly doubtful that anyone in Virginia has earthquake insurance.
He is standing by this position even as Hurricane Irene is due to chew its way up the East Coast this weekend. Maybe, just maybe if there is enough damage in his state and district he will change his tune, but don’t hold your breath on that.
The thing that is so galling about all of this is not Cantors ideological stance on the issue, but what making that stance does to the American people. One of the strengths of a nation is how it will stand together when there are emergencies. The United States has always been very good at this.
We may be fractious when it comes to politics and there are regions of the nation that disparage other regions, but when the hammer falls and there are people suffering we generally band together to help. Even as FEMA was fumbling and bumbling in New Orleans, regular citizens where loading up cars and trucks and heading to the disaster zone to give what aid they could.
By making federal disaster aid contingent on budget cuts in other areas, the Republican Majority Leader is pitting one set of citizens against another. He is not asking for shared sacrifice, but rather telling one group, say Food Stamp recipients or Head Start programs to bear the burden of the cost, instead of spreading it across the whole nation by borrowing the money and paying for it with taxes.
Since the Republican agenda will always look a social safety net programs for cut it is never the wealthy that are asked to pay more for their fellow citizens trouble. The burden will always fall on those least able to handle a cut in services.
One has to wonder if (and I am in no way hoping for this) Irene leveled Rep. Cantors house , would he want federal assistance to be unconditional? After all we know from a multitude of examples that even when Republicans rail against federal programs like Fanny May and Freddy Mac, they are more than willing to take the assistance that these programs provide. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Crazy Town) has availed herself of both mortgage backing and farm subsidies, as her hubby’s clinic makes most of its income on Medicaid dollars.
There is a reason that we do not require a balanced federal budget and it is made clear when we are talking about disasters. By their very nature they are hard to plan for. That a tornado would hit Tuscaloosa is easy to predict, how big it will be and how much damage it will cause is much harder.
When we have these unexpected disasters, the government has to be able to step in and help out the people. The United States is not its government or the land it occupies, it is the people. If the government can not or will not step in to assist the people when they really need a hand, what in the world is it for?
This idea, of course, runs aground on the reef of the Republican meme of “smaller government is better government”. It is a great talking point, especially if you are independently wealthy, but that does not make it true.
There was a meme that was really damaging to George H. W. Bush and the Republicans, it was that they are out of touch with the people and basically mean. This is starting to show its head again and should be pushed. Not just because it is good electoral politics for Democrats but because it is true.
Our government is supposed to represent us, it is intended to be the backstop to our collective well being. Any time a group like the Republicans are bending it away from that in the egregious insistence that a disaster be paid for by gutting other needed and underfunded programs we should be calling them out for their abject failure to adhere to the basic tenets of their job.
The floor is yours.