Get Rid of FEMA? Right-Wingers Push Insane Privatization Scheme in the Wake of Hurricane Sandy

News & Politics

Hurricane Sandy is still making its impact felt around the United States. But that’s not stopping right-wingers and foes of government from hammering away at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

They have a tough case to make, though--even GOP favorite Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, praised FEMA’s performance. “I have to say, the administration, the president,  himself and FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate have been outstanding with us so far,” Christie told ABC News.

As Hurricane Sandy was ripping its way through the U.S., Republican strategist Ron Bonjean took to CNN to knock FEMA, as Raw Story pointed out. “Most people don’t have a positive impression of FEMA,” said Bonjean. “I think Mitt Romney was right on the button.” Bonjean was referring to remarks made by Romney at a GOP primary debate that have sparked criticism.

“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,” said Romney in answering a question about the role of the federal government in disaster relief. He added, “if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better.” In practice, this would mean that FEMA’s role would be greatly diminished, or taken out altogether if Romney succeeded in privatizing disaster relief. Vice-presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget would also hit FEMA hard.

Romney’s remarks at the debate last year have become a lightning rod for critics of the Republican ticket--so much so that the Romney campaign stressed that their candidate would not abolish FEMA. Still, the Romney camp did stick to its guns on the issue of giving states more responsibility for disaster relief.

“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” said Romney campaign spokesperson Ryan Williams, according to Politico. "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.” A “campaign official added that Romney would not abolish FEMA,” Politico reports.

Romney’s call to diminish the role of FEMA was supported by J.D. Tuccille, a writer for the libertarian site. Tuccille called for “tak[ing] the job” of “disaster coordination” by the federal government away to “let people who know what they're doing handle the heavy lifting.”

Writing in The Washington Post, Eugene Robinson excoriated this position. “The dishonest ‘solution’ proposed by Romney and running mate Paul Ryan for the federal government’s budget woes relies largely on a shell game: Transfer unfunded liabilities to the states,” he wrote. “So-called ‘discretionary’ federal spending would be sharply reduced. This would include spending for such agencies as FEMA. So yes, even if Romney was just pandering to the right-wing base at that June debate, one consequence of his policies would be to squeeze funding for federal emergency relief.” 

A New York Times editorial also goes big after Romney for his remarks on disaster relief. Romney’s FEMA bashing is “absurd,” according to the Times, “but it’s fully in line with decades of Republican resistance to federal emergency planning... Ideology still blinds Republicans to [FEMA’s] value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.”

The editorial also slammed the Republican Party’s and Paul Ryan’s posture on FEMA.

“Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them,” the New York Times editorial reads. “The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as ‘an excellent piece of work,’ would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.”

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