Home > Uncategorized > EDITORIAL: Eric Cantor and Federal Disaster Relief

EDITORIAL: Eric Cantor and Federal Disaster Relief

You have to admire Eric Cantor’s consistency at least. For the last year he’s been demanding that any expenditure in the name of Federal Disaster Relief be offset by proportionate spending cuts. So, perhaps, it comes as no surprise when a spokesman indicated that any relief for damage caused by Hurricane Irene ought to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.

No matter what way you spin this statement, it represents a particularly radical vision of the Federal government. What I would really like to see is some thinking moderate or left-wing politician stand up and differentiate these two versions of American government.

Under one vision of America, there is absolutely no question that Federal Disaster Relief is an important governmental function, and something that justifies governmental expenditures over and above the normal budgeting process.

The simplest reason for this is that risk is pooled at the highest level in the Federal government, thus the expense of disaster repair is spread out over the largest number of people. Additionally, and for similar reasons, it makes a lot of sense for the Federal government to have the administrative and bureaucratic infrastructure to handle disasters, whereas it would be a severe burden on states and localities particularly where specific kinds of disasters are unusual in that area (think earthquakes in Virginia and hurricanes in New York). So there is both financial and practical efficiency reasons why the Federal government ought to be in the business of disaster relief.

Now, why shouldn’t costs for disaster relief be balanced with cuts to other spending? I certainly agree that some sort of funds should be set aside in annual budgeting to cover some baseline amount of disaster relief, but simply speaking you can’t account for all potential disasters on an annual basis. So it makes little sense to rob from one program to pay for disaster relief because the amount required will vary from year to year and it will be impossible to adequately appropriate ahead of time. And, frankly, the Federal government has greater financial flexibility to borrow to pay for disaster relief than do states and localities.

In addition to these realities there is an element of bleeding-heart “we’ve got to help these people” involved in Federal disaster relief. And I’m not sure there’s a problem with that (especially given the fact that somebody has to pay for the recovery and, as illustrated above, it really makes sense that the Federal government does it).

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