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When do budget cuts go too deep?

The Republican National Convention and Hurricane Issac spotlight a conundrum for the GOP, reducing the size of the government sounds good until the waters start rising.

By Jim KuhnhennAssociated Press / August 29, 2012

Against the advice of authorities, young people frolic in the high surf on the Lake Pontchartrain lakefront in Mandeville, La. as Isaac batters the north shore with high winds and high tides, Wednesday.

Ted Jackson/AP

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Washington

At their convention, Republican leaders are taking the stage to push for less government and accuse President Barack Obama of profligate spending. About 500 miles away, under threat from a hurricane, Republicans welcomed federal government aid and at least one GOP governor accused Obama of being miserly with the help.

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The chance occurrence of a political convention and a Gulf State emergency unfolding in split-screen real time is creating a clash between rhetoric and reality. The calls for fiscal discipline echoing the convention hall in Tampa, Fla., aren't reverberating in drenched and wind-whipped Louisiana or Mississippi.

The contrast illustrates one the sharpest conundrums facing a nation of giant budget deficits. Reducing the size of government sounds good until someone feels the pinch.

Obama issued disaster declarations this week for Louisiana and Mississippi ahead of the now downgraded Tropical Storm Isaac, guaranteeing federal emergency aid in designated counties. And the federal government has deployed manpower and equipment, such as Air Force Reserve "Hurricane Hunters" to conduct aerial reconnaissance on the storm and Federal Emergency Management Agency teams to help with logistics and provide other assistance.

Officials had no estimate of how much had already been spent on the effort. Altogether, the government's federal disaster fund has about $1.5 billion available.

In Tampa, the threat posed by Isaac was certainly not lost on conventioneers. The Republican Party delayed the gathering for a day because of the storm and from the dais speakers offered prayers for those in Isaac's path and wished them Godspeed. But the government's response to the storm and its expenditure of taxpayer dollars played out in sharp juxtaposition to the persistent calls for smaller government and criticism of Obama for presiding over an increase in the national debt.

"With $5 trillion in debt added over the last four years, we have no other option but to make the hard choices, cut federal spending and fundamentally reduce the size of government," New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said.

Certainly no Republican suggested that the federal government had no role in helping states in an emergency. Indeed, GOP budget hawks often single out national security and public safety as essential government functions. And as Obama declared emergencies in Louisiana and Mississippi and federal agencies mobilized in the face of Isaac's landfall, Gulf Coast states and their Republican officials welcomed government assistance. That's in addition to billions spent by the federal government upgrading the levee system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

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