By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- A top House Republican said Wednesday that there will be no holdup in replenishing disaster aid accounts and that help for victims of Hurricane Irene and earlier disasters probably doesn't have to be paid for with spending cuts elsewhere in the budget.
Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters that a $6 billion disaster aid appropriation approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee is part of a new round of budget talks this fall.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the Senate would act on the measure before the end of the budget year on Sept. 30. He gave no further details other than to say it would be a stand-alone disaster aid measure that would be lifted from the bigger homeland security spending measure approved by the committee.
Cantor told reporters that he supports a provision in last month's budget pact with President Barack Obama that permits lawmakers to add money for disaster aid to the budget so long as it doesn't exceed historical averages.
In previous comments Cantor had said there would be a need to "offset" disaster aid, or pay for it with spending cuts from other programs. That's how Congress dealt with a $1 billion emergency infusion to current-year disaster aid accounts when approving a 2012 homeland security spending bill this summer.
Cantor still stands by that move, which applies to emergency funding for this year. But for 2012 spending, he is supporting a new process that would permit an influx of disaster aid unaccompanied by spending cuts.
Last month's budget deal permits $1.043 trillion in spending for agency operating budgets for the fiscal years starting Oct. 1. It permits Congress to add disaster aid on top of that, provided that it doesn't exceed historical averages. The White House says the budget deal permits more than $11 billion in additional disaster spending over the budget cap for next year.
Cantor has clarified his stand and says that disaster aid would only have to be paid for if lawmakers hadn't adequately budgeted for it previously and had instead tapped disaster accounts to pay for other programs. He said that in past years, lawmakers had routinely and purposefully underfunded disaster aid accounts to make room in the budget for other spending - and forced adoption of emergency, deficit-financed spending bills to make up for the shortfall.
"When we are talking about offsets, that only has to do with this ad hoc sort of spending that has taken place in the past, which is what we tried to correct," Cantor said Wednesday. "Because what had been going on in the past is instead of fully funding the emergency disaster relief accounts, we didn't do that and then diverted the money elsewhere."