Cantor faces pushback on disaster aid callousness

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) has been quite candid about his position on emergency disaster assistance: if Democrats want to help communities hit by a natural disaster, Republicans will block the aid unless accept comparable spending cuts.

There’s no shortage of problems here. For example, Republicans never felt the need to pay for wars or bailouts, but now they’re applying a new standard to storm-ravaged American communities. For that matter, Republicans never even applied this standard to natural disaster victims before President Obama took office. It doesn’t help that Eric Cantor personally sought federal aid for his own district after previous storms without regard for offsets.

Yesterday, Cantor faced some pushback from a high-profile ally: his own state’s conservative governor.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, breaking with fellow Republican Cantor, on Tuesday suggested that deficit-spending concerns should not be a factor as Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency respond to Hurricane Irene.

“My concern is that we help people in need,” McDonnell said during his monthly radio show. “For the FEMA money that’s going to flow, it’s up to them on how they get it. I don’t think it’s the time to get into that [deficit] debate.”

Before Irene hit, McDonnell had requested emergency help from FEMA in 10 districts, including Cantor’s. All the requests were granted.

We also learned today that Cantor was given a chance during the Bush era to vote for offsetting the costs of disaster relief — but Cantor voted against the same approach that he’s now pushing.

Paul Krugman, meanwhile, takes a look at Cantor’s demands and explains “just how bad an idea this is in terms of basic economics.” Krugman concludes, “[B]asic, regular economics says that Cantor isn’t making sense.”

For what it’s worth, Cantor has been rather firm on this, even repeating his demands on national television on Monday morning, but yesterday, his office hedged a bit, and the Majority Leader’s staff “suggested it was possible that disaster funds would not be offset.”

If Cantor backs down on this after taking a hard line, it’d be quite a development. Of course, if Cantor doesn’t back down, he runs the risk of looking like a monster, unconcerned with Americans’ suffering.