Paul Krugman, in a column that for him counts as a measured attack on House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, has seemingly loosed every counter-GOP signifier a la mode: “extraordinary nihilism,” “sabotage,” and “blackmail” all make appearances, the “hostage takers” metaphor is dusted off for another go-round — there is even a McCarthyism non-sequitur. All this because Cantor has the gumption to suggest that new federal spending on hurricane disaster relief should be offset by cuts elsewhere. That is, the idea that a political party should use the means at its disposal to advance its stated policy goals is unprecedented and, according to Mr. Krugman, “flout[s] all the usual conventions of fair play and . . . decency” in the American political system.
Needless to say, this is wrong on several levels. On the narrower question of whether offsets for disaster relief are unprecedented, they are not. President Clinton signed legislation on at least four occasions that offset billions in disaster spending — including spending in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. On the broader question of whether Cantor’s position amounts to an instance of “hostage taking,” it does not. The Left would have us believe that those affected by Hurricane Irene will languish in mildewed rubble until Mr. Cantor gets what he wants. Unfortunately, on this score, even Republican governors of storm-stricken states have been unhelpful. “Our people are suffering now,” said New Jersey’s Chris Christie in a representative statement, and Congress should “figure out budget cuts later.” But in fact, the Republican House already has. Bipartisan legislation that replenishes FEMA’s emergency funds to the tune of $1 billion, with offsets, has passed the House and awaits action from the Democrat-controlled Senate. Any delays in the disbursement of aid will not be the House majority leader’s doing.
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