Cantor caving on aid callousness? Not yet

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) hasn’t exactly been shy about his demands for emergency disaster assistance: if Democrats want to help communities hit by a natural disaster, Republicans will block the aid unless Democrats accept comparable spending cuts.

But how far is he willing to go with this strategy? On Monday, Cantor was unyielding. Yesterday, the Majority Leader appeared to be hedging.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Wednesday amplified vows that Congress will provide emergency aid to victims of Hurricane Irene, but he declined to say whether Republicans will insist the funding be offset with cuts elsewhere.

“I believe there’s an appropriate federal role, and the monies will be there,” Cantor told reporters in his district, according to the Richmond Times Dispatch.

In a tweet later in the day, he doubled down on that promise.

“As I’ve said continuously, we will find the monies for disaster relief,” he said.

Reinforcing the perception that Cantor may not be willing to invest too heavily in this hostage strategy, after swearing up and down the emergency funding will be there for victims, his office also said Congress should “find offsets whenever possible.” The word “whenever” suggests the Majority Leader isn’t exactly committed to finding dollar-for-dollar cuts anytime soon.

But there’s still some ambiguity here. Cantor also told reporters yesterday about disaster aid, “There are no strings attached. We found the money.”

Confused yet?

Cantor is apparently still talking about the $1 billion in disaster aid House Republicans approved in May, paying for it by cutting funds for a renewable energy program. Whether the Majority Leader understands what he’s saying or not is unclear, but the costs associated with Hurricane Irene will far exceed $1 billion. For that matter, the House bill is problematic to the Senate and White House anyway, and Irene victims don’t have time for prolonged negotiations over the spending bill.

The Majority Leader, at least publicly, is signaling progress, but behind the scenes, we’re actually looking at yet more gridlock. Worse, it’s another GOP-generated political breakdown that seems likely to last a while.

So, the Majority Leader seems to be hedging a bit on his offset demands, but approval of disaster relief is still not close, and headlines yesterday that said Cantor had already given in weren’t quite right. As long as Cantor keeps playing games with emergency aid, necessary funding will be delayed.