House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has said Republicans will refuse to approve emergency disaster aid in the wake of Hurricane Irene unless Democrats accept comparable spending cuts. The White House isn’t impressed by Republicans’ reluctance to put Americans first.

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, [White House press secretary Jay Carney] said the federal government’s priority should be to respond to the disaster. He also noted pointedly that Cantor 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.

As brush-back pitches go, this is pretty mild, but the underlying point seems critical. If Republicans, including Cantor, were simply obsessive about offsets and fiscal responsibility, we could at least have a debate over the wisdom of their policy.

But their demands are a sham. The Majority Leader and his caucus said wars didn’t have to be paid for, tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires didn’t have to be paid for, Medicare expansion didn’t have to be paid for, No Child Left Behind didn’t have to be paid for, and the Wall Street bailout didn’t have to be paid for.

More to the point, GOP lawmakers didn’t even care about paying for responses to natural disasters. In 2005, Republicans didn’t pay for the response to Hurricane Katrina, and in 2004, after his area was hit by a tropical storm, Cantor personally pushed for immediate emergency aid from the Bush administration, without regard for comparable cuts.

But if hurricane victims in 2011 need emergency relief, all of a sudden Eric Cantor can’t possibly support aid without offsets?


In the meantime, Michael “Heckuva Job” Brownie, the former horse association official who the Bush administration hired to run FEMA, told Fox News this morning that he fully supports congressional Republicans’ decision to block disaster aid until Democrats accept cuts.

And if there’s one person who has credibility on disaster-relief policy, it’s good ol’ Michael Brown, right? He’s quite an ally for Eric Cantor and House Republicans.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, meanwhile, told reporters this morning, Congress’ principal concern should be “whether we need to protect the safety and security of the people that we are all privileged to represent,” adding, “Congress knows that this is historically the way disaster relief funding has been handled.”

My sense is that Napolitano knows full well that Republicans aren’t putting “safety and security” first, and couldn’t care less about American norms and traditions, but said this as a way to help establish the basis for debate.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. 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.