As Frankenstorm bears down on the east coast it has pretty much taken over the news cycle, which has probably got to be good for Oabama and kind of a bummer for Romney since the polling cycle was on an Obama upswing before the news cycle froze in time a week before the election. But Hurricane Sandy does actually have some relevance in the political cycle.
Let’s think way back to June—Obama was signing off on a new budget policy for disaster relief driven by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid that would make it easier for disaster-stricken areas to access relief funds. Tea Party Republicans hated the idea, claiming it was just more “wasteful government spending,” and put forth an alternate plan that would prohibit any federal disaster relief without first “paying for” the disaster funds by cutting spending in equal measure from other areas. The poster boy for the anti-disaster funds plan? VP pick Paul Ryan.
But Ryan isn’t the only half of the GOP ticket who publicly said he wanted to roll back federal disaster relief. In a primary debate on June 13 moderator John King asked Romney if the states should take over paying for disaster relief themselves. Romney answered: “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.” Asked specifically, “Including disaster relief, though?” he answered, “We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.”
Two months later Harry Reid called Romney-Ryan hypocrites for making a big show of sympathy for Hurricane Isaac victims when they had just been advocating to cut off disaster relief funds. Ryan accused Reid of “playing politics” because the Ryan budget did technically allow for federal disaster relief—it just mandated equivalent spending cuts as a prerequisite.
But that’s not what Romney himself said on video in a very public debate. He said he wanted to roll responsibility over to the private sector (presumably via insurance companies), and asked point blank whether the federal government should ditch disaster relief, he answered “We cannot afford to do those things.” Ron Paul took a lot of flack for this position, saying the federal government should not provide aid to tornado victims earlier this spring. But Romney’s position here is exactly the same.
Watch the video and see for yourself.
As has widely been been pointed out, more than anything else this year’s election is a referendum on what kind of role government should play in the social fabric. Addressing this question at the last debate, Obama said the primary role of government is to keep its people safe.
It’s hard to imagine a vision for the role of government that doesn’t take basic safety into account. It’s the basic foundation how we live—none of us live in a vacuum. If we get invaded we’re not going to protect our own houses—we’re going to need an army. And if we get hit with a natural disaster we’re going to need to pitch in to fix it together. As the most advanced society in the history of the world, we should be able to figure out how to pay for this.
Neither party is doing anything about climate change—the failures on this score since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” came out and in in the face new broken records on climate year after year are mind-boggling. But if we’re going to be choose to be this lax on climate, we’re going to at least have to pick up the tab on disaster relief, because it’s only going to get worse.