published Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Mitt Romney's wrong on FEMA

  • photo
    Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney campaigns in Des Moines, Iowa.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Whenever there is a major natural disaster in the United States, most people affected look to the U.S. government and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide help in its aftermath. That was true here after the devastating 2011 tornadoes. It was true following Hurricane Katrina's 2005 rampage. It is no doubt true now that Hurricane Sandy and a related superstorm continue to batter a goodly portion of the United States.

FEMA's response isn't always up to speed and there often are questions about policy and rules (there were some here after the tornadoes). Usually, though, FEMA does an adequate job providing large-scale disaster aid and assistance in instances where any other agency or the private sector would be hard-pressed to meet staggering need. Not many, then, question the federal agency's overall mission, much less its existence. Mitt Romney, however, does.

He's on record -- in a 2011 GOP primary debate -- as saying that it was "immoral" for the federal government to be spending money on disaster relief, when it should be focused on deficit reduction. He went on to say that states, not the federal government, should deal with natural disasters.

"Every time you have an opportunity to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction," the GOP presidential hopeful said. "And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what should we cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"

A somewhat incredulous debate moderator responded, "Including disaster relief, though?"

Romney replied, "We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things [i.e., disaster relief] without jeopardizing the future of our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."

In other words, debt relief -- the conservative right's political holy grail -- is more important than helping provide basic amenities (food, water shelter, medical assistance) in the wake of sometimes previously unimagined disaster. Romney hadn't changed his mind about FEMA until now -- when tens of millions of Americans are in harm's way the week before the presidential election. That's a little too convenient.

Romney knows he can't take back his original statement about FEMA, so over the weekend he issued an extremely vague press release indicating that he now supports some federal involvement in disaster relief. He offered no explanation of what that might or should involve. That, of course, is vintage Romney: Say whatever is the most politically expedient thing to say, but offer nothing concrete. That allows him enough wiggle room to later interpret the statement in any number of ways -- most of them self-serving.

The truth is that Romney is flip-flopping on federal disaster aid, just as he has on so many other critical issues. The truth, too, is that Romney's original belief is both wrong and the antithesis of the care and concern government should have for all, not just a few, of its citizens.

FEMA provides services that no other agency can afford or arrange on such a vast scale over multiple state borders. It can help restore widespread damage to physical infrastructure and help maintain basic quality of life for individuals when states and the private sector are least able to do so. One might debate about how FEMA does its work, but those like Romney who say its job should be eliminated or truncated have no understanding of the role it does play in times of crisis. This week's massive storm, unfortunately, is likely to teach that lesson anew.

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fairmon said...

Romney is right, it is a state responsibility and each state could be held responsible to have a disaster plan that handles much more than any now have because they have again passed the obligation on to the federal level. Look to the federal government to do only those things states cannot do. Bush initiated FEMA, a prescription drug plan and two wars without a funding plan which are included in the current deficits and growing debt. Properly staffed and equipped state national guard divisions could and should be the response source for most disasters.

October 30, 2012 at 5:39 a.m.
carlB said...

harp3339, You appear "not to have" the perfect solution for dealing with major disasters which can happen at anytime and in any state in the USA. There has to be comprehenive plans that take into consideration the entire USA working together to absorb the cost and getting the needed outside help.

October 30, 2012 at 11:03 a.m.

Harp is correct. The states should be responsible for this type of organization. The federal government is and should be constrained by the constitution to do only those things enumerated to it through our laws. The people of the United States always step up to provide for those in need. As we saw with Katrina, the federal government and the red-tape machine behind it only get in the way, delaying the support that private citizens step up to provide. It also usurps the rights and responsibilities of the state to provide for it's residents.

October 30, 2012 at 4:55 p.m.
tipper said...

If you think federal government officials are bad, take a look at Tennessee's state legislators. Some of the most ridiculous legislation ever imagined has come out of Nashville. It would have taken days or weeks before our state politicians would have been able to come together to help anyone. No thanks, the federal government, except for Bush and "Brownie," has much more experience in disaster relief, can mobilize much faster, and can coordinate efforts. Then too, federal money to help those after losses doesn't come from states. And who knows where the money would go if given to the states? Talk about pork.

October 30, 2012 at 6:12 p.m.
jjmez said...

Romney said as much, he wants to turn program such as FEMA over to state and private sector, which will continue to receive the money from the federal government. The private sector will pay itself first. The state will use only a fraction these programs are designed to keep the feds off their backs. All in all both the state and private sector will divert the greatest portions to other pet projects more to their and the rest to their crony capitalists and line one anothers pockets. The citizens in need will get royally screwed in the end.

October 30, 2012 at 8:08 p.m.

See, I don't think it was a matter of principle, but rather a lack of understanding. Romney's so concerned about his talking points that he can't even comprehend what question he's being asked.

He just has to go with the rhetoric he's been told to embrace.

October 30, 2012 at 10:07 p.m.
Ch0pper said...

"Properly staffed and equipped state national guard divisions could and should be the response source for most disasters" -harp333

" As we saw with Katrina, the federal government and the red-tape machine behind it only get in the way, delaying the support that private citizens step up to provide. It also usurps the rights and responsibilities of the state to provide for it's residents" - Flyingpurple...

First of all,I don't think the two of you understand the man-power needed to be use during devastating events.Thus, it would make sense for Govt. coordinating action-planned from state to state. if you go with M.Romney that each state is responsible for itself, you just speaking of a smaller-scale effect of natural disaster. Romney believes GOvt. should not spend on these rather save up money to pay off debt. well, its quite heartless to go cheap on these unfortunate events.It's very easy said then done you can learn that example from M.Romney when he implied that we should get rid of FEMA. All in all, i don't think its a valid reasoning of Romney for getting out debt. "easy said then done" surely Romney has learn something from it.

October 31, 2012 at 11:11 a.m.
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