Barbour rejects GOP line on disaster aid

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.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.