UPDATE at 11:22: The Romney campaign has issued a statement saying that the former governor does not support abolishing the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions. 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.”
The impacts of monstrous Hurricane Sandy are already being felt. Thousands are already without power, with the storm still 200 miles off shore.
Most dramatically, off the North Carolina coast, the crew of the HMS Bounty, a three-masted, 180-foot replica of the “Mutiny on the Bounty” original, has been forced to abandon the tall ship. High winds and seas initially prevented the Coast Guard from launching a rescue operation, leaving the 17-member crew to try to weather the storm in two lifeboats. As of 9:15, helicopters had finally reached the scene and had begun hoisting crew members aboard.
Elsewhere, the storm is packing every bit of the punch predicted and then some. Predictions are that as far away from the coast as Lake Michigan, winds could reach 50 mph with waves as high as 25 feet. Along the Virginia-West Virginia border, snow may total two feet.
Stu Ostro, senior meteorologist at The Weather Channel, predicts Sandy “will occupy a place in the annals of weather history as one of the most extraordinary to have affected the United States.”
Sandy possesses “a combination of track, size, structure and strength that is unprecedented in the known historical record there,” Ostro writes, calling it “a meteorologically mind-boggling combination of ingredients.”
“This is an extraordinary situation, and I am not prone to hyperbole,” he concludes.
Both Mitt Romney and President Obama have called off political events scheduled for Virginia. Obama has canceled events in Florida and Ohio as well, heading back to the White House to oversee storm preparations. He has also signed emergency declarations for seven states to make them eligible for FEMA assistance.
And what would a President Romney be doing in such a situation? If you take him at his word, he would prefer to be doing little or nothing.
Back during the Republican primary season, in the wake of devastating tornadoes that hit Louisiana, Missouri and Tennessee, Mitt Romney strongly endorsed the idea of ending federal disaster-relief programs and devolving that job to the states. As I pointed out in a blogpost at the time, that’s a dangerous proposal, because a state that has just been hit hard by a major natural disaster simply does not have the financial resources necessary to respond on the necessary scale.
But Romney, asked that question point blank in the debate by CNN’s John King, did not equivocate:
“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. Instead of thinking in the federal budget, what we should cut — we should ask ourselves the opposite question. What should we keep? We should take all of what we’re doing at the federal level and say, what are the things we’re doing that we don’t have to do? And those things we’ve got to stop doing, because we’re borrowing $1.6 trillion more this year than we’re taking in. We cannot…
KING: Including disaster relief, though?
ROMNEY: We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids. It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we’ll all be dead and gone before it’s paid off. It makes no sense at all.
I rarely quote myself, but in this case I’ll make an exception because what was said more than a year ago in response to Romney applies more than ever, with Sandy about to hit shore and wreak havoc on millions of people:
“… it is moments such as these that put the “United” in the United States. We are not self-contained human units each out to maximize individual wealth and consumption; we are Americans, and we help each other out. The notion that disaster relief is among “those things we’ve got to stop doing” is nonsense, and to base that suggestion on grounds of morality, as Romney does, boggles the mind.
After all, we are the richest nation the world has ever known. The concept that “we cannot afford to do those things” — “those things” being assisting our fellow Americans in a time when they have lost everything as a result of natural disaster — is unacceptable.
I’m not sure what Romney was thinking in those remarks. This was not some misstatement or misunderstanding on his part. I suspect, however, that this is what happens when a party becomes so trapped in its rhetoric that it no longer recognizes rational bounds or even basic compassion.”
And yes, I fully expect Romney to break out his Etch A Sketch and thoroughly repudiate his comments of a year ago. But the record should still be noted, because it accurately reflects the governing philosophy that Romney and his fellow Republicans would attempt to implement if given the chance to do so.
– Jay Bookman