Mitt flips on FEMA, now would keep it

Romney said he wanted to eliminate the government agency, but now he's having second thoughts

Topics: Natural Disasters, Mitt Romney, FEMA, Election 2012, Hurricane Sandy,

Yesterday, we noted that even as a massive super storm was bearing down on the East Coast, Mitt Romney’s campaign was standing by his suggestion in a GOP debate last year that he would end FEMA and make the states handle disaster relief on their own. But how much has changed in 24 hours. As we wake up to see the disaster Hurricane Sandy had wrought, we also find a new position for Romney, who now says he wants to keep FEMA.

In a GOP primary debate in June of last year, moderator John King asked Romney if he would let states take on the responsibilities of FEMA, which was “about to run out of money.” “Absolutely,” Romney replied. “And 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 … We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things,” he added.

After the Huffington Post highlighted the quote Sunday under the headline, “Mitt Romney in GOP Debate: Shut Down Federal Disaster Agency, Send Responsibility to the States,” a spokesperson for the Romney campaign followed up with editor Ryan Grim. Did the spokesperson say Grim’s characterization of Romney’s comments was wrong? Nope. “Gov. Romney wants to ensure states, who are the first responders and are in the best position to aid impacted individuals and communities, have the resources and assistance they need to cope with natural disasters,” was all the unnamed Romney official said.

You Might Also Like

As we noted yesterday, eliminating the federal component of disaster relief is a terrible idea. And after Hurricane Sandy has left millions suffering, the Romney campaign seems to have come around. “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,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement to Politico’s Andrew Restuccia.

It’s worth noting that what Williams describes is basically exactly the way emergency management functions now, though he curiously left out any mention of local and municipal responders, who are really in the best position to affect aid. When locals get overwhelmed, they bring in state resources. When state resources get overwhelmed, they bring in federal resources. As FEMA explains about the National Incident Management System, the national standardized process that various tiers of government used to work together in emergencies:  “NIMS does not take command away from state and local authorities … The intention of the federal government in these situations is not to command the response but, rather, to support the affected local, tribal, and/or state governments.”

There is a valid, though wonky, critique to be made of the current system of cost allocation between states and Washington. When the president declares a federal disaster area, the federal government commits to paying for 75 percent of the recovery effort. A report from the Government Accountability Office this year found that the formula used to determine whether states can handle the financial burdens of disasters on their own has not adequately kept up with inflation and increases in household incomes. So the federal government ends up taking on financial obligation that states could and should afford on their own.

Changing the way the threshold is calculated would save the federal government lots of money, but that’s not at all what Mitt Romney was talking about. He was making an ideological argument, not an accounting one. And by coming back around to support basically the status quo, it’s hard to see his position on FEMA as anything but another flip-flop.

Alex Seitz-Wald

Alex Seitz-Wald is Salon's political reporter. Email him at aseitz-wald@salon.com, and follow him on Twitter @aseitzwald.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Martyna Blaszczyk/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 1

    Pond de l'Archeveche - hundreds thousands of padlocks locked to a bridge by random couples, as a symbol of their eternal love. After another iconic Pont des Arts bridge was cleared of the padlocks in 2010 (as a safety measure), people started to place their love symbols on this one. Today both of the bridges are full of love locks again.

    Anders Andersson/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 2

    A bird's view of tulip fields near Voorhout in the Netherlands, photographed with a drone in April 2015.

    Aashit Desai/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 3

    Angalamman Festival is celebrated every year in a small town called Kaveripattinam in Tamil Nadu. Devotees, numbering in tens of thousands, converge in this town the day after Maha Shivratri to worship the deity Angalamman, meaning 'The Guardian God'. During the festival some of the worshippers paint their faces that personifies Goddess Kali. Other indulge in the ritual of piercing iron rods throughout their cheeks.

    Allan Gichigi/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 4

    Kit Mikai is a natural rock formation about 40m high found in Western Kenya. She goes up the rocks regularly to meditate. Kit Mikai, Kenya

    Chris Ludlow/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 5

    On a weekend trip to buffalo from Toronto we made a pit stop at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. I took this shot with my nexus 5 smartphone. I was randomly shooting the falls themselves from different viewpoints when I happened to get a pretty lucky and interesting shot of this lone seagull on patrol over the falls. I didn't even realize I had captured it in the shot until I went back through the photos a few days later

    Jassen T./National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 6

    Incredibly beautiful and extremely remote. Koehn Lake, Mojave Desert, California. Aerial Image.

    Howard Singleton/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 7

    Lucky timing! The oxpecker was originally sitting on hippo's head. I could see the hippo was going into a huge yawn (threat display?) and the oxpecker had to vacate it's perch. When I snapped the pic, the oxpecker appeared on the verge of being inhaled and was perfectly positioned between the massive gaping jaws of the hippo. The oxpecker also appears to be screeching in terror and back-pedaling to avoid being a snack!

    Abrar Mohsin/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 8

    The Yetis of Nepal - The Aghoris as they are called are marked by colorful body paint and clothes

    Madeline Crowley/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 9

    Taken from a zodiac raft on a painfully cold, rainy day

    Ian Bird/National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest

    National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest Entries

    Slide 10

    This wave is situated right near the CBD of Sydney. Some describe it as the most dangerous wave in Australia, due to it breaking on barnacle covered rocks only a few feet deep and only ten metres from the cliff face. If you fall off you could find yourself in a life and death situation. This photo was taken 300 feet directly above the wave from a helicopter, just as the surfer is pulling into the lip of the barrel.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>