Will federal disaster relief be the next political hostage?

You know doubt recall that far-right Republicans recently blocked raising the U.S. national debt ceiling — which if not raised would force the country to default on its obligations — unless they got their way on a set of drastic spending cuts. Raising taxes, or even closing loopholes or allowing temporary tax cuts to expire, they said, was not acceptable. They apparently assumed — correctly, as it turned out — that this hostage strategy would work because their opponents wouldn’t risk the country.

(Incidentally, if you think calling this a “hostage” strategy is partisan name-calling, please recall that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) himself has used the term, saying in early August, “I think some of our members may have thought the default issue was a hostage you might take a chance at shooting. Most of us didn’t think that. What we did learn is this — it’s a hostage that’s worth ransoming. And it focuses the Congress on something that must be done.”)

Incidentally, more recently, the same Republican extremists have practically demanded that one particular tax cut expire, namely the temporary reduction in the Social Security tax rate pushed through by President Obama. That cut benefits mainly Americans with income from work and whose pay is less than astronomical. (Social Security tax applies only to income from work, not investing, and the amount of income subject to the tax is capped, currently at $106,800, giving a break to those with very high incomes.)

Now at least some Republican leaders may have a second hostage in mind, namely people who need help after a national disaster. As Brian Beutler of Talking Points Memo quotes Cantor spokesweasel Laena Fallon, “Eric has consistently said that additional funds for federal disaster relief ought to be offset with spending cuts.” Cantor himself said as much in reference to possible earthquake assistance a few days ago, according to an August 24 Roll Call article. Presumably members of Congress desperate to help disaster victims would be willing to submit to Republican demands.

But as Steve Benen points out, Cantor’s office has since announced they were refusing to discuss the subject, as did the office of the Speaker of the House, possibly out of fear of political damage.

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