The fight over whether to offset emergency spending on disaster relief, as Eric Cantor wants, could end up being the most interesting upcoming battle in Congress. The lines aren’t drawn in an entirely partisan way on this one. In particular, Republican Governors in the states affected want to see that disaster relief, and don’t care about offsets. Yesterday, Bob McDonnell spoke up about it. Today, it was Chris Christie’s turn.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie joined calls for immediate increases to the FEMA disaster aid budget in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, slamming fellow Republicans such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) who have called for additional funds to be offset by equivalent spending cuts.
“Our people are suffering now, and they need support now,” Christie said, according to The Wall Street Journal. “And [Congress] can all go down there and get back to work and figure out budget cuts later.” [...]
“You’re going to turn it into a fiasco like that debt-limit thing where you’re fighting with each other for eight or nine weeks and you expect the citizens of my state to wait?,” Christie said. “They’re not gonna wait, and I’m going to fight to make sure that they don’t. I don’t want to hear about the fact that offsetting budget cuts have to come first before New Jersey citizens are taken care of.”
The sense of urgency here makes this a different matter than some of these other fights. Dave Weigel says it’s not a big deal, but it has generated a pretty visceral reaction, particularly from those affected by the storm. If offsets are not the top of the agenda for House Republicans, they can prove it by putting forward an emergency relief bill themselves. Somehow I don’t see that happening.
In addition, there are Republican members of Congress who represent some of the districts directly affected, who may not want to bother with offsets when emergency relief is on the line. Simply put, they don’t want to fall into a Nan Hayworth trap:
Only days after a record-setting storm destroyed her district, Rep. Nan Hayworth and her House colleagues threatened to withhold disaster money if lawmakers don’t cut additional spending from the federal budget.
“We’re facing a natural disaster in the middle of an economic disaster,” Hayworth said Wednesday. “Certainly, the challenges we face with the national budget have not changed.”
Hayworth, R-Mount Kisco, said she would only vote to replenish the federal disaster fund if new spending was offset by budget cuts. She said those cuts should come from “non-defense discretionary spending.” Hayworth likened her position to a family skipping vacation if it was overwhelmed by bills.
Hayworth’s expected Democratic opponent is already slamming her over this; expect it to be a major campaign theme. She’s also getting criticized by local Republicans in her district.
I don’t think it’s at all clear how this will pan out. And for those directly suffering, there’s not a lot of time.