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Hurricane Irene, Eric Cantor, and the Hostage-Taking Politics of Disaster Relief

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Hurricane Irene, currently a Category 3 slamming the Bahamas, is heading directly for the U.S. It is expected to make landfall in North Carolina on Saturday:

Airline flights and events were canceled or postponed in advance of Hurricane Irene, a dangerous storm that is expected to bring widespread damage, power outages and flooding from North Carolina to New England.

A hurricane warning was issued Thursday for coastal North Carolina from Little River Inlet north to the Virginia border, including the Pamlico, Albemarle and Currituck sounds, the National Hurricane Center said.

At a time like this, of course, it is essential that government emergency services, particularly federal, be ready to help those areas that need relief. Think of the people who will need food and shelter, the infrastructure that will need to be repaired and possibly rebuilt, the devastation that may soon come.

Think back to Katrina. We learned a lot from that catastrophe, did we not?

Well, not all of us.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor didn't -- or at least doesn't seem to care.

Just as Republicans held the country hostage over the debt ceiling ("give us what we want, or else"), Cantor is now trying to do the same over disaster relief (some of which may be needed in his home state of Virginia, which is in Irene's path). As his spokesperson explained, "Eric has consistently said that additional funds for federal disaster relief ought to be offset with spending cuts."

It's one thing to demand offsets in theory, or even at the negotiating table, quite another to do so with a major hurricane bearing down, with a natural disaster possibly at hand. It would be like if a dying man desperately needed a blood transfusion but you refused to give him any unless he gave you his house and car. (Which is actually how health care works in the U.S., but let's not go there.)

This was Cantor's response to the earthquake that caused significant damage along the east coast, including in Virginia, it's his response to Irene, and it's his response to disaster relief generally. No money unless money is cut elsewhere. In other words: Give us what we want, or else. And you can be sure he won't agree to cuts to military spending. He just wants to cut programs he's ideologically opposed to -- relatively insignificant funding for, say, public broadcasting, or more significant funding for the poor and those who otherwise are vulnerable and need government help, like Social Security and Medicare.

Consider the message he's sending to the people along the east coast, in Irene's path. We'll help you but only if we can also weaken programs that help you. You get some disaster relief, but, otherwise, screw you. That's what this comes down to. (Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, has preemptively declared a state of emergency. Cantor apparently doesn't care.)

This is cruel and unusual. As Steve Benen provides perspective:

A while back, during a different debate, John Cole noted, "If these guys were comic book villains, no one would buy it because it's just too over the top." It's a sentiment that comes to mind all the time.

Tom DeLay never went this far. No one has ever gone this far. U.S. officials have always put everything else aside when families and communities are hit and need a hand, but now, thanks to the new House Republican majority, those principles have been cast aside.

*****

We can obviously hope for the best when it comes to Hurricane Irene, but at this point, Republicans are apparently intent on literally adding insult to injury.

"Adding insult" is a nice way to put it. This is ugly ideological extremism operating as insensitivity to suffering, political hostage-taking with lives and livelihoods in the balance.

In 2011, it's the Republican way.

Cross-posted from The Reaction