House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) has led the charge against approving emergency disaster relief funds without matching spending offsets since May, when he opposed relief funds for Missouri tornado victims until the House made sufficient spending cuts. Cantor has more recently opposed disaster funds for tornadoes in Alabama, Hurricane Irene in multiple states, and the recent East Coast earthquake that centered in his own district, unless equal spending cuts were made. On the eve of 9/11′s 10th anniversary, Cantor even insisted on spending cuts to first responders to pay for disaster relief.
Despite allegations from both Democrats and Republicans that Cantor is holding disaster relief funding hostage to extract further spending reductions, Cantor asserted yesterday at the American Action Forum in Washington D.C. that “no one” is holding any disaster relief funding “hostage”:
CANTOR: It’s important to get relief to the people who need it. No one is holding any money hostage. I also think we can do it in a responsible way.
Mere hours before his comments, however, Senate Republicans did just that, filibustering a $7 billion disaster relief package in the Senate because it did not contain spending offsets. Sen. John Thune (R-SD) last week told reporters, “We have got to find a way to pay for these things,” and other Republican senators said they wouldn’t support a plan without offsets.
Asked why the GOP would oppose that funding, Cantor explained that the party was blocking those funds both on procedural grounds and because the cuts had not been offset, saying lawmakers should “responsibly” approve the funding:
CANTOR: I have asked what are the details in the bill, and I have also said that the president has not requested that amount of money. There’s a process in place, whereby the states and localities go through an assessment as to their potential obligations and need and whether the need exceeds the capacity. Once that determination is made at the local and state level then the federal government comes in with FEMA and decides to make a recommendation whether to extend assistance. The initial estimates are nowhere near $7 billion for what we just went through. Again, I believe strongly you ought to get relief to the people who need it and no one should be standing in the way of that and we should do that responsibly.
Governors of states that have been affected by the most recent disasters disagree with Cantor, as did former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), who argued in 2005 that disaster relief funds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina did not need to be offset by spending reductions. Tuesday, 40 members of Congress, including 12 Republicans, sent a letter to Congressional leaders calling on them to “pass disaster assistance immediately.”