Romney's big storm: killing off FEMAOctober 30, 2012 6:25 PM
Mitt Romney is running hard today, but not after voters. He has suspended campaigning for the time being, out of respect for the millions struggling with the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Sandy.
No, Romney is running from a pack of campaign reporters eager to hear him expand on his suddenly famous views about chopping FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Last year, when Romney was deep in his "severely conservative" mode, competing with far-right aspirants for the Republican nomination, he was asked by CNN's John King whether he favored cutting FEMA's budget.
"Absolutely," replied Romney. "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."
The federal government, he declared, funds FEMA by borrowing money, and that, he said, is "immoral."
The classic Republican position, of course, is that pooling national resources to help out a few hard-hit states -- which, given the realities of America's climate, are often the poorer ones -- amounts to redistribution, or, as conservatives here like to call it, socialism.
Today, though, as he appeared at events collecting food and other supplies for Sandy victims, Romney is trying hard to appear moderate; and, needless to say, FEMA is very popular indeed with millions of Eastern voters.
Few at this point would likely be interested in relying on "the private sector" for help.
Driving that point home in an editorial titled "A big storm requires big government," the New York Times labeled Romney's position "absurd," asking how exactly financially strapped states could cope by themselves with a nightmare like Sandy.
And media outlets were anxious for a fuller airing of the candidate's views.
How exactly should emergency aid be privatized? Will Romney be visiting the areas where FEMA relief money is going? Should the state of New Jersey, governed by Romney ally Chris Christie (who is praising the federal relief effort nonstop on cable news networks) be forced to pay its own recovery bill?
A little more detail, please, on how much the Republican budget plan would cut FEMA?
Romney's response: pretending not to hear the shouted questions.
What's more, according to reports from Capitol Hill today, there is now "rare agreement" among Congressional Republicans that FEMA's current $7.8 billion budget is satisfactory, and that relief assistance is a priority.
Romney campaign spokesman Brendan Buck was uninterested in revisiting Romney's 2011 declaration. "A Romney-Ryan administration will always ensure that disaster funding is there for those in need. Period," said Buck in the Washington Post.
At a guess, Obama campaign ads featuring Romney's anti-FEMA declaration are already in the works.
Obama, who spent the day announcing disaster programs and speaking to the American Red Cross, just needs to hope FEMA does better this time than its abysmal performance in 2005, when New Orleans drowned.