With Fearful Election Looming, Bill Press Claims Romney Would End Federal Disaster Relief

Liberal radio host Bill Press counts himself among bedwetting left wingers who are claiming Mitt Romney wants to eliminate the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

All this claim demonstrates is that those making it sense disaster on the horizon -- specifically, Election Day -- and that they can't distinguish between moderate-since-birth Romney and unapologetic libertarian Ron Paul who actually would abolish FEMA. (audio clip after page break)

On his radio show yesterday, Press played a clip of Romney responding to a question on disaster response during a GOP primary debate in June 2011 (audio credit, Brian Maloney at mrctv.org) --

PRESS: Romney wasn't so high on federal disaster relief. In fact, he said that giving money you haven't, having FEMA and having money for federal disaster relief just added to the deficit and it was immoral.

ROMNEY (during GOP debate): We're borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we're taking in. 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 wrack up larger and larger debts and pass them onto our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. Makes no sense at all.

PRESS: Would not even make an exception for disaster relief when he said we had to cut federal spending. President Obama, meanwhile, taking time out of the campaign yesterday, most of his time was spent dealing with the hurricane, signing emergency declarations for every state up and down the East Coast. He went over to FEMA and met with Craig Fugate, the head of FEMA, and the staff there and said we are moving ahead to do everything we can, in any way we can, and let no red tape get in the way.

OBAMA: We're going to cut through red tape. We're not going to get bogged down with a lot of rules. We want to make sure that we are anticipating and leaning forward into making sure that we've got the best possible response to what is going to be a big and messy system.

PRESS: And the president said we are taking this seriously and so should all of you.

OBAMA: My first message is to all the people across the Eastern Seaboard, mid Atlantic, going north, that you need to take this very seriously.

Yes, the same Mitt Romney who once claimed he was better on gay rights than Ted Kennedy. The same Mitt Romney who signed a health care bill as governor of Massachusetts in 2006 that provided the template for Obamacare. The same Mitt Romney who early this year suggested annual increases tied to inflation for the federal minimum wage law that many conservatives prefer to see scrapped altogether. He's the guy who wants to eliminate FEMA ... right.

In his remarks during that GOP debate back in 2011, Romney wasn't criticizing FEMA, nor did he state it should be eliminated -- he was condemning unsustainable debt as inherently immoral and a crushing obligation that will eventually have to be paid by our children and theirs.

Our national debt is akin to a vehicle that has gone far too long without an oil change. Yes, we can continue driving this vehicle, but for much longer. To which liberals respond, what if there's an emergency, are you actually suggesting it shouldn't be driven?! Followed by them calling you a racist.

Notice what is absent from the current debate over FEMA and its funding and responsibilities -- is anyone suggesting that states should cede a portion of the money and duties they currently reserve for themselves in cases of natural disaster -- and transferring both to FEMA?  All Romney is suggesting is a version of the opposite -- FEMA ceding some of its duties and current $7.1 billion in annual funding back to the states (the sources for FEMA's funding to begin with, not incidentally).

It is no accident that when disaster strikes, as with Hurricane Sandy this week, the public officials we hear from most are governors and mayors of major cities -- because they are the elected officials most directly involved in responding.  They are also most accountable if they are perceived as incompetent.

Just as obvious to those willing to see it is that FEMA has degenerated into a "political pork-barrel spending agency," in the words of the Heritage Foundation's Matt A. Mayer. 

In a post titled "Congress Should Limit the Presidential Abuse of FEMA," written last January, Mayer pointed out that in 2011, new records were set by FEMA for its total number of Major Disaster Declarations and Fire Management Assistance Declarations.

"It also posted the third-highest number of Emergency Declarations (EDs) in FEMA history," Mayer writes, "29 versus 68 set in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. These records fell despite the absence of any successful terrorist attacks, any Category 2 or higher hurricanes, or any earthquakes greater than 6.0 on the Richter Scale."

A portion of bar graph chart included by Mayer in his posting can be seen below, showing a nearly eightfold increase in FEMA declarations from 32 in 1989 under President George H.W. Bush to 242 last year during the Obama administration.

"To put this figure in perspective," Mayer writes, "it means that somewhere in America in 2011, a disaster occurred every day and a half that required the intervention of the federal government because each of these disasters overwhelmed a state and its local governments. Most Americans would be hard-pressed to remember any disasters in the United States in 2011 other than Hurricane Irene (15 MDDs [Major Disaster Declarations] compared to four MDDs due to Hurricane Katrina), the Joplin tornado, and the Tuscaloosa tornado."

The Romney campaign is batting down this new line of attack from the left.

"Governor Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions," said campaign spokesman Ryan Williams. "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."

Jack Coleman
Jack Coleman
Ex-liberal from People's Republic of Massachusetts