As Hurricane Sandy comes barreling up the East Coast, the Federal Emergency Management Administration is poised to once again be in the eye of a political storm. Both President Obama and former Governor Mitt Romney will carefully choreograph their campaigns in the coming days, but there will also be added pressure on FEMA.
Since the agency’s poor initial response to Hurricane Katrina, FEMA has been subject to a high level of scrutiny. For President Obama, a failure by FEMA would of course reflect poorly on his administration, but for former Gov. Romney, his position during a 2011 primary debate may be part of the storm’s aftermath with one week to go before Election Day.
In a June 2011, Romney was asked how he would deal with funding for the federal agency. At the time, FEMA was facing a massive budget shortfall. “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,” former Gov. Romney answered. “And if you can go even further and send it back to the private sector, that’s even better.” In a follow up, the former governor was asked specifically if his beliefs applied to disaster relief. Romney said, “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.”
Responding to inquiries about those statements in light of Hurricane Sandy, Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a written statement on Monday, “Governor 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.”
Photo: President Barack Obama attends a briefing on Hurricane Sandy at FEMA Headquarters, Washington, D.C., (Photo: Rex Features via AP Images)