With this week's deadly storm as a backdrop, there's been a fair amount of interest in Mitt Romney's plans for FEMA's future. Just last year, the Republican said he intends to effectively close FEMA's doors, turning over authority for emergency response to states and the private sector.
At a public event on Tuesday, Romney was asked 11 times by reporters whether he'd keep FEMA intact if elected president, and 11 times, the candidate ignored the question. It took a while, but yesterday, his campaign issued a written statement with the Republican's position.
"I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters," Romney said in a statement supplied by his campaign Wednesday. "As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters."
At a minimum, this is preferable to the candidate blowing off the question altogether. But the written statement from aides -- why Romney wouldn't say this out loud is unclear -- leaves key questions unanswered.
For example, why is it that Romney now believes FEMA should get "the funding it needs," but last year, he said "we cannot afford" to fully fund the agency? Other than the calendar, what's changed?
What's more, the budget plan Romney endorsed would mean at least a 34% cut to FEMA's budget. Has the Republican candidate changed his mind about this, too, or does he stand by his previous commitment?
And let's also not forget that GOP policymakers over the last two years have said they only intend to fund disaster relief if they can cut a comparable amount of spending elsewhere in the budget. Would a Romney/Ryan administration operate with this principle in mind?
The election is five days away. The answers to these questions matter.