House Majority Leader Eric Cantor is demanding that emergency funding for repairing Irene-related damage be fully offset with spending cuts.

Steve Benen says that this “Republican approach to disaster relief is morally reprehensible,” but I think that’s wrong. If Republicans really did believe in pay-as-you-go rules, then I don’t think it’s at all morally reprehensible to apply them to emergency spending. Indeed, one Congressional tradition is that not only are emergency appropriations just tacked on to the budget deficit, but alert Members of Congress are eager to add their own favorite (and unrelated) projects to must-pass legislation. As a defender of logrolling, I see nothing wrong with it in either direction.

And yet – it’s pretty clear that what we’re dealing with here is a form of negative logrolling, not fiscal discipline. In other words, what’s happening is that Republicans are using the opportunity of emergency funds to attack programs they would be happy to eliminate anyway. Indeed, the odds are good that whatever cuts they will propose for the offsets are cuts that they’ve previously opposed in other contexts. As Benen correctly points out, fiscal discipline has absolutely nothing to do with it:

As far as Eric Cantor is concerned, launching wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not need to be paid for. Tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires do not need to be paid for. Bailing out Wall Street does not need to be paid for. But when American communities are struck by a natural disaster, all of a sudden, House Republicans discover a new standard: if Democrats want to help affected areas, the GOP has some demands that must be met.

That’s exactly right. Remember, almost all of the medium-term budget problem is precisely because Republicans insist on not paying for their own priorities, whether it’s the Bush-era tax cuts or the AMT and doc fixes. And it’s worse because Republicans stripped PAYGO from the budget process during the Bush years, and then weakened PAYGO at the beginning of the current Congress.

Republicans are welcome to pretend that they want to cut programs that they don’t like because of budget deficits, but there’s no reason at all for anyone to believe them. This is exactly the same sort of logrolling and Christmas tree legislating that Members of Congress have always engaged in. It has nothing to do with budget deficits at all.