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On Monday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor decided to play politics with the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, declaring on Fox News that any money the government spends on relief for those areas devastated by the hurricane must be paid for by “savings elsewhere,” which means cutting other government expenditures. And not just any government expenditures; Cantor wants to cut funding for policemen, firemen, and other first responders who provide necessary help to communities — especially during natural disasters.

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu realizes the obvious problem with such an idea. “Does it really make sense,” she asks, “to pay for response and reconstruction costs from past disasters by reducing our capacity to prepare for future disasters?”

It’s not just Democrats who object to Cantor’s plan. Even his fellow Republicans realize it’s foolish. On his radio show, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell said, “My concern is that we help people in need. For the FEMA money that’s going to flow, it’s up to them on how they get it. I don’t think it’s the time to get into that [deficit] debate.”

Cantor himself once realized the importance of federal emergency aid — at least when it comes to his own district. In 2004, after his district was stuck by Tropical Storm Gaston, he had no qualms begging for federal emergency aid. At the time, he didn’t seem to care where the money came from and certainly didn’t advocate cutting funding for first-responders. “The magnitude of the damage suffered by the Richmond area is beyond what the Commonwealth [of Virgina] can handle,” he explained in a September 2004 press release, “and that is why I asked the president to make federal funds available for the citizens affected by Gaston.”

Short-term memories are the rule in Washington, but on disaster-relief, the House Majority Leader is setting a new bar.

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