One of the reasons I entered politics was to help people in difficult circumstances. Of all the times that we should marshal the resources of our communities and government, it should be during disasters. Americans’ history of doing just that is now threatened by some conservative members of the U.S. Congress, including Virginia’s own Eric Cantor (R-7th). Cantor, and his like-minded colleagues, want to make federal disaster aid contingent upon the enactment of cuts to other areas of the federal budget. This is unprecedented and inconsistent with how Americans have generally addressed disaster relief.
In Cantor’s case, it is also classic hypocrisy.
In August 2004, after Tropical Storm Gaston slammed into Central Virginia, Cantor sought the immediate assistance of the federal government in making more than $20 million in disaster aid available to his constituents. At that time, he also voted against an amendment to the supplemental bill for disaster aid that would have offset any increases in relief with budget cuts. Now, in a complete reversal, he has argued that aid to Joplin, Missouri (devastated by a tornado in May 2011), assistance to Louisa County, Virginia (in the aftermath of the earthquake), and financial help to central and eastern Virginia (attempting to clean up in the aftermath of Irene), should not occur without comparable cuts in other federal government spending.
I hope that we will not abandon a time-honored principle that the federal government should run temporary deficits to address the immediate need brought on by natural disasters, and to repay those obligations, either by spending cuts or tax increases, over a longer period of time. While Governor McDonnell has emphasized meeting the immediate need of Virginians in this post-disaster period, he has not been directly critical of Cantor’s statements in this area. I trust that our Governor, and my colleagues in the Virginia House and Senate will join together in asserting that some measure of disaster relief is a “core service of government” that should not be held hostage to political ideology.