November 2, 2012 (San Diego’s East County) – San Diego’s local Republican Congressmen Brian Bilbray, Duncan Hunter and Darrell Issa voted for the Paul Ryan budget which would have deeply reduced emergency response and preparedness to disasters such as Hurricane Sandy and local wildfires. An analysis from Third Way says that the Ryan-Bilbray budget “would set the clock back on disaster preparation to the days before Hurricane Katrina.”
Mitt Romney, in a primary debate, called disaster relief “immoral” and said he would privatize FEMA. Following Hurricane Sandy, he has sought to blur his stance, though his running mate’s budget would also have radically cut federal aid and hampered states’ abilities to respond when disasters strike.
The Ryan budget passed the GOP-controlled House without a single Democratic vote, but failed in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Scott Peters, who is running against Bilbray, slammed his opponent for turning his back on disaster victims. Peters' campaign forwarded an October 30 article in Politico titled ”Ryan budget could hammer storm aid, critics say.” The article noted that the Ryan budget would have cut non-defense discretionary funding by 22 percent.
“These are very deep cuts to a part of the budget that’s already been cut a lot,” Michael Leachman, the lead author of a report on the cuts, told POLITICO, adding that “the part of the budget that includes disaster relief and other forms of state and local aid would have a pretty big target on its back...These kind of cuts would come at a time when states and localities are already hobbled by the recession and the sluggish economy.” He estimates that states and local governments could lose $28 billion in 2014 under Ryan’s plan if funding for state aid was indeed cut by 22 percent.
David Kendall, a senior fellow for health and fiscal policy at the think tank Third Way, said Ryan’s budget cuts “community and regional development,” which includes FEMA, by 62 percent below the Office of Management and Budget’s baseline.“Four of every 10 dollars from [community and regional development] goes to disaster relief, so it would be virtually impossible for FEMA to avoid major cuts if the Republicans implemented their budget proposal,” he said.
Kendall also said cuts under Ryan’s budget would prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from launching a replacement polar satellite on time.
“The result would be devastating,” Kendall said. “Weather forecasts would be only half as accurate. Without this satellite, hurricane forecasters would not have been able to give Americans on the Eastern seaboard an accurate warning about Sandy.”
In the aftermath of Sandy, governors from states hard hit by the storm, including Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, praised the federal government’s response to far. And he touted FEMA’s role in the state’s recovery.
“I expect FEMA to be a major force here over the next couple of months. And that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about months,” Christie said during a Tuesday morning briefing.
It’s not clear just what Romney’s approach to major disasters would be. The Romney campaign stressed Monday, after the devastating storm hit the East Coast, that there is a place for agencies like FEMA, although he has called for the agency’s privatization just months ago.
“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement Monday. Romney declined to answer at least five questions from reporters in Ohio about what he would do with FEMA. But if Ryan’s budget is any indication of Romney’s plans, FEMA and other agencies that play major roles in predicting and responding to storms could see cuts.
That’s a drastic change from the June debate, when a moderator pressed Romney on disaster relief. “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” Romney responded. “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.”
Who profits off privatizing FEMA, as Rommey proposed before being bombarded with critical media coverage? A Miami newspaper recently reported that former President George W. Bush's brother, Jeb Bush, has founded a private disaster relief corporation.
Whether it’s immoral to leave disaster victims and their children to fend for themselves, with zero federal dollars to help them rebuild their lives, or farm out relief efforts to corporations seeking to turn a profit in the process, is apparently a difference of partisan opinions.