Ryan Grim, formerly of the Marijuana Policy Project, has a hit piece at The Huffington Post today accusing Mitt Romney of wanting to abolish the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nothing could be further from the truth.
“During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the Joplin disaster and FEMA’s cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response,” Grim claims.
Romney said no such thing. Here is a transcript of the debate:
KING: What else, Governor Romney? You’ve been a chief executive of a state. I was just in Joplin, Missouri. I’ve been in Mississippi and Louisiana and Tennessee and other communities dealing with whether it’s the tornadoes, the flooding, and worse. FEMA is about to run out of money, and there are some people who say do it on a case-by-case basis and some people who say, you know, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role. How do you deal with something like that?
ROMNEY: Absolutely. Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that’s the right direction. 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 we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…
KING: Including disaster relief, though?
ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for 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.
Romney was advocating for a stronger state roll in disaster response and preparedness and a depoliticization of FEMA. These are both perfectly mainstream good government positions. Contacted for comment Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said:
Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions. As the first responders, states are in the best position to aid affected individuals and communities, and to direct resources and assistance to where they are needed most. This includes help from the federal government and FEMA.
Notice that Williams statement specifically presupposes a role for the federal government and FEMA. At no time has Romney ever suggested the agency should be “shuttered.”
FEMA has, unfortunately, been transformed from a disaster prevention and response coordination agency, into a source of pork barrel spending. This has been a bipartisan phenomenon. While President George H.W. Bush declared less than 50 FEMA disasters year, his son, President Bush declared an average of 130 a year and Obama Obama is averaging 153 declarations per year. The increase in FEMA declarations is not due to global warming.
Major multi-state storms, like Hurricane Sandy, are exactly why FEMA was created. Non-lethal 5.8 earthquakes in Virginia are not. By over-federalizing disasters, FEMA has both: 1) encouraged state dependency on federal resources; and 2) stretched their own resources thin by responding to too many events.
Romney’s prescription for a scaled back FEMA more in line with its historical role is exactly what the country needs.