During a 2011 Republican debate Mitt Romney outlined his steadfast belief that the function of government should be outsourced to the for profit industry whenever possible. When asked about FEMA, the organization that disastrously handled Hurricane Katrina after the Bush administration chronically underfunded it, Romney repeated that the federal government should play a minimal role in disaster response. He said:
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,
When asked by the Huffington Post whether Romney stood by his comments in light of Hurricane Sandy, Romney's campaign responded with the following:
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.
There is a slight problem with this. As Jeff Fecke points out in Truthout:
Romney’s paean to states’ rights ignores the very important role of FEMA in coordinating disaster relief in events that transcend state boundaries. Hurricane Sandy is expected to impact fourteen states and the District of Columbia; its impact stretches from Maine to North Carolina, and from West Virginia to Massachusetts.
Furthermore, FEMA manages disasters on scales beyond the capacity of states to manage them. Hurricane Katrina did over $100 billion in damage to Louisiana in 2005. The entire annual budget for the state is about $25 billion. Simply, states that are hit by devastating natural disasters are usually in no position to manage the crisis by themselves.
The Republicans have continued in their efforts to de-fund FEMA despite its crucial role in massive disaster relief (as witnessed in New Orleans), either believing states can fill in more effectively when they clearly can't, or not really caring one way or the other.
Either way, gigantic storms like Hurricane Sandy that are set to cause billions and billions of dollars in damage across vast sectors of the country highlight the need for a well funded federal government. The situation will no doubt be politicized in the coming week, but my guess is that it will work in Obama's favor given his belief in the role of government and make Romney's fanatic opposition to it a big negative.
It's sad to make this issue political given the countless lives the hurricane will affect, but the reality is that the effectiveness of the response to disasters like this come down to decisions made in Washington. The Republicans are not interested in maintaining or funding effective federal agencies capable of responding to serious disasters, whereas the Democrats are. That's the choice this November, and Hurricane Sandy unfortunately highlights the need to make the right decision.