The horrific tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri may have also created a political battle in Washington D.C. The death toll from the tornado now stands at 119, making it the single deadliest tornado since modern record-keeping began 60 years ago. The financial toll is also expected to be high, with initial estimates putting damages at around $3 billion. Without significant aid from somewhere Joplin will simply not be able to recover from a tornado that literally ripped the town in half. Today House Majority Leader Eric Cantor signaled that the Congress may not be willing to provide aid without accompanying spending cuts to other programs.
[SLIDESHOW: Images of destruction from the Joplin tornado]
Today President Obama pledged to provide “every ounce” of federal resources to helping the victims in Joplin. Thus far FEMA has been on the scene to help with rescue operations. However, in the long-term the President would likely need congressional approval in order to provide a package of financial aid. Any aid package would have to pass through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, where Cantor serves in a powerful leadership position. As the Washington Times reports, Cantor said any aid would need to be offset by other spending cuts, “If there is support for a supplemental, it would be accompanied by support for having pay-fors to that supplemental.” The term “pay-fors” means either spending cuts or tax increases, and the Republicans have firmly stated that they would not pass any tax increases this year. The Washington Times also points out that six years then-House Majority Leader Tom Delay approved Hurricane Katrina aid without offsetting spending cuts. At the time Delay said it was acceptable to just add the Katrina aid on to the deficit.
Finding offsetting spending cuts for the aid to Joplin may be hard in the current political climate. The Democrats and Republicans just got done passing a very tough set of spending cuts which upset both sides. Currently the Congress and White House is busy trying to negotiate a deal on the debt ceiling. Finding cuts to offset aid to Joplin may take weeks if not months, and in the meantime the people of Joplin will be left waiting.
Some might also argue that the money for Joplin should come from private individuals or the state. Charitable groups and individuals certainly are helping the people of Joplin with supplies including water bottles, first aid kits, and tarps. However, no group or individual has come forward to pledge the $3 billion needed to rebuild Joplin. On the state level, Missouri was already struggling to meet budgetary demands before the Joplin disaster, and tax increases are limited by a provision in the Missouri Constitution called the Hancock Amendment.
See also: The American Red Cross website for donations to Joplin, Missouri