With Hurricane Sandy nearing landfall in the Northeast, some liberal publications have dug up old comments Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made about federal disaster aid. The debate over whether disaster aid is best administered by the federal government or state and private agencies resurfaces often during national disasters.
During a June 13, 2011, Republican presidential debate, Romney was asked about reducing the national debt. The host of the debate, CNN's John King, then asked if federal disaster aid is also an area where he would give more responsibility to the states.
"Absolutely," 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.
"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..."
"Including disaster relief, though?" King interrupted to ask.
"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney said, referring to the national debt. "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."
While some liberal bloggers are claiming that Romney called disaster aid immoral, Romney is clearly referring to the national debt as immoral in the quote.
In response to reports about the comment on Sunday evening, a Romney campaign official reiterated Romney's preference for allowing states to implement disaster relief with financial aid coming from the federal government.
"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," the campaign official wrote in an email to The Huffington Post.
The Federal Emergency Management Administration was already in debt after Hurricane Irene hit the East coast in August 2011. Some reports estimated a shortfall of between $2 billion to $4.8 billion.
In the aftermath of that disaster, there was a debate between the Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House over whether the cost of additional aid should be offset with cuts to other parts of the federal budget or should be funded through more borrowed money. The Republicans wanted offsets.
George Zanjani, associate professor of Risk Management and Insurance at Georgia State University, has published research on federal disaster aid, which he calls a "stealth entitlement."
Zanjani found that the federal government does not fund disaster relief adequately, so much of disaster aid funding comes from off-budget supplemental appropriations bills.
The government can expect to spend anywhere from $10 billion to $24 billion per year on disaster aid, Zanjani told The Christian Post in a September 2011, interview. But Congress funds disaster aid at about $1 billion per year. Disaster aid funding, therefore, represents an unfunded liability of about $90 billion to $240 billion over the next decade, according to Zanjani's calculations.