As Hurricane Sandy approaches the northeast United States, the left is attempting to politicize the storm, attacking Republican nominee Mitt Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), for wanting to shift more responsibility for disaster relief from the federal government to the states.
They ignore the fact that President Barack Obama's proposal for the upcoming budget sequester would cut nearly $900 million from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including disaster relief, food and shelter, and flood management at both the federal and state levels.
The cuts, detailed on pages 94 through 96 of the White House's sequestration proposal, released in mid-September, show how far the Obama administration has been willing to go in order to preserve the idea of tax hikes on "millionaires and billionaires" rather than reaching a comprehensive grand bargain on deficit reduction that does not place additional burdens on the economy or essential services.
As Bob Woodward notes in his definitive account of the debt ceiling negotiations, such a bargain was within reach in July 2011, before President Obama destroyed it.
Obama's proposed cuts to FEMA include the following (emphasis added):
- Flood Hazard Mapping and Risk Analysis Program - $8 million
- State and Local Emergency Programs (non-defense) - $183 million
- State and Local Emergency Programs (defense) - $5 million
- United States Fire Administration and Training - $4 million
- Salaries and Expenses (non-defense) - $75 million
- Salaries and Expenses (defense) - $7 million
- Disaster Relief - $580 million
- Emergency Food and Shelter - $10 million
- Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program - $3 million
- National Pre-disaster Mitigation Fund - $3 million
These cuts likely underestimate the total cuts proposed to disaster relief functions, since the U.S. armed forces--subject to separate cuts in Obama's sequester proposals--frequently provide support to FEMA operations, as well as essential search and rescue services.
The White House sequestration proposal also warns: "The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s ability to respond to incidents of terrorism and other catastrophic events would be undermined."
While Romney and Ryan are merely proposing to shift some of the emergency functions to the states, or to balance further increases in FEMA funding with offsetting cuts in other discretionary spending, Obama has proposed actual cuts, at both the federal and state levels.
During the Third Presidential Debate, Obama attempted to blame Congress for introducing the idea of the sequester, and said that sequester cuts are "not going to happen." However, as Woodward notes, the sequester was Obama's idea, and he subsequently signed it into law in the Budget Control Act. In addition, Obama privately continues to tout the sequester as proof that he is capable of reducing the budget deficit.
What the left and the media are trying to do--once again--is to politicize a natural disaster. It is worth noting that Romney visited the regions affected by Hurricane Isaac in August long before Obama did. Obama, in fact, spent days campaigning elsewhere while the storm and its aftermath ravaged the Gulf Coast.
Only when he was shamed by Romney's example did Obama cancel campaign events and accelerate his trip to the region--three days after Romney had already been and gone.
Obama has also shown a singular disinterest in other natural disasters, from the earliest days of his presidency; his newfound interest is an election-season phenomenon.
It is precisely Obama's reckless spending and mismanagement that has placed FEMA in the budget-cutting crosshairs.
Democrats and their media allies would be well advised to train their criticism on the White House, which has already proposed sweeping and damaging cuts to FEMA that will soon take effect, rather than using Hurricane Sandy as yet another misguided attempt to use natural disasters to bash Republicans.