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When President Obama traveled to Joplin, Mo., on Sunday after a devastating earthquake swept through the town earlier this month, he pledged the government's support.

"The cameras may leave. The spotlight may shift. But we will be with you every step of the way until Joplin is restored and this community is back on its feet," he said at a memorial service for the 139 lives taken by the storm, which flattened large sections of the city. "We're not going anywhere."

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency has come through with immediate needs like food and temporary shelter, the agency is stretched thin by a recent spate of other natural disasters throughout the country. To provide additional relief for tornado victims in Joplin, last week the House Appropriations Committee approved a $1 billion aid package. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, however, has warned: Not so fast.

Speaking on CBS' Face the Nation on Sunday, Cantor insisted that disaster relief must first be paid for with cuts to other programs. Comparing the federal government to a family on a tight budget, he argued for the necessity of financial discipline. " ... Families don't have unlimited money," he said. "And, really, neither does the federal government."

Though Cantor's "small government" stand is generally consistent with those of other Republicans in this Congress -- particularly Tea Party freshman Rep. Billy Long, who represents Joplin -- it's rare for the ideology to extend to denying emergency relief. Missouri members of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike, have publically challenged Cantor's position.

"It makes me sad," Republican Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, whose own district was flooded as a result of the storms, told the Huffington Post on Cantor's take. She acknowledged that people's outlook on government spending changes when it becomes personal. "My own constituents would be horrified if I didn't do everything I could."

Conservative Sen. Roy Blunt urgently requested that the White House fully reimburse Joplin's debris cleanup, instead of the federal government's usual 75 percent reimbursement rate. On Tuesday the White House announced that it will pay 90 percent of the cost.

Missouri Democrat Rep. Russ Carnahan kept his opinion on the matter short but sweet in this letter addressed to Cantor:


People are suffering -- now is not the time.



Another Missouri Democrat, Rep. William "Lacy" Clay, is likewise disgruntled by what he calls an unprecedented move of requiring offsets for emergency aid. In an interview with The Root, he questions the sincerity of Cantor's budget consciousness and explains why he thinks the GOP's anti-spending platform is shortsighted.

The Root: What do you think about Eric Cantor's call for recovery aid to be offset with other budget cuts first?

William Lacy Clay: At the beginning of this legislative session, we went through this whole exercise of reading aloud the Constitution of the United States. For Mr. Cantor and people who think like him, I want to refer them back to the Preamble, which states: "We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

It is our duty as a government to provide for the general welfare of the people of this country. How we got so far off track by saying that we need to have offsets is ridiculous. In my lifetime, whenever we have experienced natural disasters such as hurricanes, flooding and droughts, the government has always stepped in. For us to divert from that practice is wrongheaded and shows a lack of compassion for the American people in order to score political points.

TR: Do you think Cantor is really just playing politics here, or is he trying to be fiscally responsible?

WLC: Under the Bush administration, he would not have opposed disaster relief. He was here during Hurricane Katrina, and he didn't oppose it then. The difference is that you have a different president sitting in the White House, and he opposes everything he does. To oppose this initiative, put forth by the White House, to provide relief for Americans ... I have no other explanation for his actions.

TR: He's saying that we don't have unlimited funds and have to account for it.

WLC: I think he's disingenuous. It all comes down to making the average American suffer for [Republicans'] reckless spending in the beginning of the last decade -- giving tax cuts to the wealthy and not paying for that, having a Medicare Part D prescription and not paying for that, and conducting two wars and not having those paid for. So now it's time to make the American people suffer for their indiscretions.

TR: Several of your Republican Missouri colleagues have disagreed with Cantor on the idea of offsetting emergency spending, despite their usual "no more government spending" message. What do you think of this change of heart?

WLC: I appreciate their position. They are Missourians and Americans, and they realize that there's a domestic need that's really hitting home for them. I think all of the rhetoric has flown out the window as reality has sunk in.

Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.