Eric Cantor’s ideological purity overrules common sense — not to mention heart.
For Manhattan at least, it was the weather week that wasn’t. But the minor earthquake and weakened Hurricane Irene served as reminders of the caprice of nature and — only a couple of weeks before the 10th anniversary of 9/11 — the knowledge that at any given moment calamity literally is just around the corner.
Both also should serve as wake-up calls to those who reject the value of government and would like it rendered down to nothingness — the helpless infant that Eric Cantor, Grover Norquist and their pals wish to see drowned in the bathtub.
The 5.8 we had on the afternoon of Aug. 23 felt like a truck had hit the building. There was a thump and I looked out the window to see if something heavy-duty was rolling down Seventh Avenue. Nothing, but the apartment kept wobbling up and down.
As for Irene, I live in what the city has designated Evacuation Zone C, meaning we would be sent out of the neighborhood if a direct hit by a Category 3 or 4 storm — or maybe an asteroid — seemed imminent. That didn’t happen, but my girlfriend was moved to a hotel in midtown because the television newsroom at which she works needed her close at hand.
We had a small room, on the third floor away from the street, so little chance of windows blowing in, which was good, facing the airshaft, which was bad. One look out the window and we quickly drew the shades; it looked like the place where pigeons go to die — or at least throw their trash. Maybe the storm would give it a good wash.
It didn’t. We finally returned downtown early Sunday afternoon. Branches and leaves littered the streets and trees were down by a nearby playground. Plenty of rain and wind but nothing like the loss of life, power outages and billions worth of wind and flood damage inflicted outside the city, upstate and beyond.
By all accounts, and at this writing, the White House, FEMA and other government agencies, including state and local, acquitted themselves reasonably well during the lead-up to Irene, the actual hurricane and its aftermath, although many remain in need. As even The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank had to admit, “Big Government finally got one right. … A rare reminder that the federal government can still do great things, after all other possibilities have been exhausted.”
However, he continued, “Americans won’t have long to savor this new competence in government. NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) has already been hit with budget cuts that will diminish its ability to track storms, and FEMA, like much of the federal government, will lose about a third of its funding over the next decade if Tea Party Republicans have their way.”
Cuts have been approved by the House Appropriations Committee to the program that sends “hurricane hunter” aircraft into storms to measure data crucial for hurricane forecasts. Weather satellites are on the chopping block, too.
In the short term, the cost of Irene means diverting monies from the government’s Disaster Relief Fund, cash intended for tornado cleanup in Joplin, Mo., and other towns. Congress will need to vote for more, probably billions more. And hurricane season isn’t even over yet.
But although his own congressional district was damaged by Irene, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor says no, not unless spending cuts are made elsewhere to offset the cost, dollar for dollar.
That’s ornery, mean and just plain wrong — ideological purity overruling common sense. Even New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, fresh off his pre-Irene “Get the hell off the beach” performance and no stranger himself to pigheadedness, declared, “We don’t have time to wait for folks in Congress to figure out how they want to offset this stuff with other budget cuts.”
Approving emergency aid in a national crisis is not to be held over our heads like a ransom note. This is not the way we were raised, not the way we were taught to treat one another. We lend a hand.
Yet in a time of national crisis, whether in or out of hurricane season, Cantor continues to spout pettifoggery and right wing Republicans go along with him, even as the economy burns, infrastructure crumbles, funds are slashed and untold millions suffer.
Heckuva job, Eric.
Michael Winship is senior writing fellow at Demos, president of the Writers Guild of America, East and former senior writer at “Bill Moyers Journal” on PBS.