House Majority Leader Eric Cantor on Wednesday stood by his calls to offset any supplemental spending directed at the string of natural disasters in the Midwest, despite complaints from some Democrats and Republicans.
“Nobody should underestimate the tragedy here,” the Virginia Republican told Roll Call in a brief interview Wednesday. “Our hearts reach out to these families.”
But he reiterated his statement this week that Congress needs to find a way to offset the costs of a likely supplemental spending bill. Helping the victims of recent flooding and tornados should come before continuing to fund old or outmoded programs, he said.
“Of course when something like this happens, there is an appropriate federal role,” Cantor said. “Surely ... we can find the money to meet our priorities.”
The federal government has “the capacity to provide the economic aid and relief [needed] and do so in a fiscally responsible manner,” he added, noting that House Republicans have already identified offsets that could be used to replenish existing disaster relief funds.
Cantor’s comments came as calls for emergency spending had already begun. The House Appropriations Committee approved a draft Homeland Security spending bill Tuesday after adding $1 billion to provide disaster relief for flood victims along the Mississippi River and tornado victims in Missouri and Alabama. The bill would transfer unused funding from an Energy Department advanced car technology program to offset the spending.
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), whose state has been hit hard by the Mississippi floods, circulated a letter Wednesday urging Members to push the White House to formally submit a supplemental spending bill.
Significant funding will be needed for “disaster programs for debris removal, levee repairs, emergency food and housing, rebuilding schools, hospitals, police and fire stations, and roads, and other recovery efforts,” she wrote.
“In the past, the Senate, on a bipartisan basis has approved such emergency funding,” Landrieu added. “I encourage you to reach out to the President, urging him to request such funding, and to ask the Senate Leadership to consider such legislation in an expedited fashion.”
The White House has not requested a supplemental spending bill, and it is unclear whether the House and Senate would ultimately decide to make such a bill budget neutral.
Not all Republicans supported Cantor’s stance. “I’m saying if we do an emergency supplemental, it does not need to be offset,” said Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (Mo.), whose state was slammed Sunday by a tornado that killed at least 123 people.
Emerson acknowledged that some in her party “are very skittish because their constituents will be upset with them because of our deficit and our debt situation.”
“But you know, as I said, I really think that government’s function in this instance is to do the right thing for people who, as an act of God, have lost everything,” she said.
If her colleagues in the GOP insist on offsets, Emerson said she hopes it is done quickly.
“It’s a tragic situation. I mean, quibbling over how we’re going to offset it, and you look at the devastation and tragedy these people are facing? They just want help right now,” she said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.