September 7, 2011

The Unkindest Cut

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) last week suggested that any aid to victims of Tropical Storm Irene should be offset by budget cuts elsewhere in the federal budget in order to comply with Tea Party orthodoxy. He thereby confirms Ralph Waldo Emerson's maxim that a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.

For many of Cantor's fellow Tea Party suck-ups this constitutes the first time the rubber really meets the road in terms of principle versus common sense. A lot of the freshmen Republican congressmen who fueled the "debt crisis" crisis are from districts heavily impacted by Irene. They have been hearing from constituents whose lives have been devastated through no fault of their own and who have grown up accustomed to the idea that in these situations the federal government will be there to provide disaster assistance.

This episode underscores the fundamental flaw in the whole balanced budget thinking that we discussed in an earlier post. State governments can have the luxury of a balanced budget because they know that when the shit hits the fan the federal government will borrow money to pay for the damages. If you restrict the federal government's capacity to borrow when urgent needs require it to do so, then you are faced with a very politically and morally unpleasant alternative, which is a lot of unnecessary suffering among the people you were elected to represent, whose interests you were chosen to defend.

In government as in life, you are only as good as your next crisis. A new crop of politicians is about to discover the potency of that particular maxim.

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