Moving forward on the disaster relief bill

There was a fair amount of talk last week, here and elsewhere, about how House Republicans would deal with emergency disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Irene. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said the GOP would deny the funds unless Democrats accepted Republican terms: dollar-for-dollar cuts to offset the aid.

Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), ignoring Cantor’s demands, said the upper chamber will move forward on a clean, stand-alone, $6 billion disaster relief bill.

“We need to get this relief funding to the American people as quickly as we can, and we’re going to do that — I’m going to bring a free-standing bill, and we’re going to have a chance to vote on it,” Reid told reporters at his weekly Capitol briefing Wednesday. “Some of my Republican colleagues are trying to — I was going to say something that was vulgar and I’m not going to do that — are trying to cater to the Tea Party by holding up relief efforts.”

Reid singled out House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) who was an early, vocal advocate for offsetting. I put in a request for comment on Reid’s specific plan with Cantor’s office, but it’s worth pointing out that Cantor addressed this to some extent earlier Wednesday. “I am for making sure people get their money [and] that there will be no hold up,” he told reporters.

That doesn’t mean it’s a done deal.

Federal spending so close to the end of the fiscal year is often tricky. We don’t yet know, for example, when the Obama administration will request the disaster relief funds, and whether it will apply to this or the next fiscal year.

But while the process comes together, it’s encouraging that Reid and Senate Dems aren’t terribly concerned about House Republican demands.

I’d also note that Cantor’s line still doesn’t enjoy universal GOP acceptance. Two Republican governors and at least one Republican House member said last week that the Irene response should be treated the same way previous disaster relief bills have been treated — as emergencies, without regard for offsets. This week, we’re seeing even more pushback from within the Republican Party, with several more House GOP members from damaged areas rejecting the Cantor line — including some of the Republicans’ radical freshman class.