The Washington Post

Eric Cantor’s cake

Let us not tarry and quibble about whether the late Marie Antoinette ever actually said a thing and instead cherish it as the blurt of a person who is, as we now say, out to lunch. This is the fate of the hapless Cantor who is so obsessed with cutting the Federal budget that he originally proposed that Federal disaster aid for victims of Hurricane Irene be offset by cuts elsewhere in the budget. In other words, if someone somewhere would only close a school we could get that poor widow-woman out of her attic where she went to escape the (cliché alert) raging flood waters.

The original Marie would call this an idee fixe, a French term meaning preoccupation or obsession, but what around Cantor’s home town of Richmond is called a bee in his bonnet. His bee is supposedly the Federal debt, which is a serious problem, I grant you, but which really is the size of the Federal government. One way of reducing the size and reach of the government is to limit its funding. Whether this is a good idea is debatable and not the subject of this little essay. It is the method, not the madness that is under discussion here.

The Federal government has always raised money for disaster relief by borrowing the funds. This is prudent since disasters are short-lived, the funds are urgently needed and the money can be raised in the future. This happens to be how George W. Bush funded the Iraq war. He did not raise taxes, just expectations. Maybe he thought the banner “Mission Accomplished” would convince the enemy that it had lost.

Cantor’s salvation is that one of his party’s presidential candidates is Ron Paul — second in the Iowa straw poll, remember? Paul makes anyone seem moderate. He would severely limit the Federal government’s role in disaster relief and he had the temerity — a bit admirable, actually — to express his feelings as much of the East Coast was being flattened. Had Dickens lived to see Paul, Ebenezer Scrooge would have a different name.

In recent days, Cantor must have looked in the mirror and, shocked by the visage of the late French queen, moderated his statements. He has acknowledged that people look to the Feds for disaster relief which, when yopu think abnout it, is relief of a sort right there. But the damage may already have been done. The congressional wing of the Republican Party is convincing most American that it lacks common sense. It appears to have paused to pinch pennies while the flood waters were still rising. This is not smart economics. It is also stupid politics. Keep your eye on Eric Cantorette and his minions. Come November of 2012, heads will roll.

Richard Cohen writes a weekly political column for The Washington Post.


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