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GOP seeks offsets for post-Sandy relief

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Last year, congressional Republicans came up with an entirely new standard when it came to emergency disaster relief: Congress will consider helping struggling Americans and devastated communities, but only if Democrats accept comparable spending cuts.

It came as something of a shock. The same GOP lawmakers who saw no need to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, tax cuts for millionaires, or the Wall Street bailout said American communities struck by a natural disaster can get help, but only if the costs of the aid are offset elsewhere, penny for penny. It was a standard without precedent.

Any chance Republicans would be more compassionate going forward? Apparently not.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, signaling that Republicans may revive last year's battles over offsets to disaster aid relief, says he expects that any package to help Northeast states hit by the superstorm Sandy will have to including matching cuts in spending elsewhere in the federal budget.

"We always help communities during disasters," he said Wednesday after having met earlier in the day with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is pushing for quick passage of an aid package. "The difference you have got now is that it is going to have to be offset."

And why is "going to have to be offset"? Because Republicans say so.

Steve M. reminds us of the recent history: "Republicans, led by Eric Cantor, pulled this stunt in the spring of 2011, after a tornado cut through Joplin, Missouri, and then a couple of months later, after Hurricane Irene and an East Coast earthquake (which damaged Cantor's home state of Virginia). This was wildly unpopular, even with Virginia's Republican governor, but when has being unpopular ever prevented Republicans from posturing as obnoxious hard-asses?"

The White House is still crafting a disaster relief package to aid communities hard-hit by Sandy, and Congress does not yet know the expected price tag. Most estimates, however, point to an $80 billion aid package.