The recent unprecedented onslaught of natural disasters has left already cash-strapped states with a record $36 billion in damages. Ten different natural disasters have struck in 2011. According to FEMA, damages from Hurricane Irene alone will cost at least $1.5 billion in disaster relief — and the hurricane season isn’t over.
This disastrous year is also the year that many Republican lawmakers have also decided to break precedent and demand that much-needed disaster relief be offset with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.
Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) vowed to quickly usher $6 billion in emergency disaster relief for states through the Senate. However, even as wildfires obliterate more than 1,000 homes in his state, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) insisted that those funds be offset because “we can’t keep spending money we don’t have.” Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), whose state has suffered “millions and millions of dollars” in wind and flood damage from Hurricane Irene, simply demanded that “we’ve got to offset everything”:
“We can’t keep spending money we don’t have,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, where deadly wildfires have charred tens of thousands of acres and destroyed more than 1,000 homes. […]
“I think we’ve got to offset everything; anything that’s not allocated has got to be offset these days. It shouldn’t delay it,” Burr told POLITICO. “There’s hundreds of billions of dollars of waste, fraud and abuse that could be accessed like that.”
This purist principle did not stop both Cornyn and Burr for voting to fund rebuilding efforts in Iraq without a single offset. Indeed, Cornyn voted against delaying $20.3 billion in Iraq infrastructure funds even though the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) noted that such a payment would increase the budget deficit. Overall, the U.S. has spent $44.6 billion in taxpayer funds on rebuilding Iraq through emergency supplemental bills — and not a penny was cut from elsewhere in the budget.
Cornyn and Burr’s position — first espoused by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) — is so callously out of touch that even fellow Republicans are slamming the idea. After enduring serious bipartisan backlash, Cantor is now gun-shy. Calling Reid’s emergency funds bill “unprecedented,” he is not clearly taking a stand against it.