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Sunday, December 11, 2016

As the Republican party prepares to formally nominate Mitt Romney for president, it seems that Tropical Storm Isaac will loom over every move that they make during their convention. The storm has already forced the party to cut a day from the convention schedule and — in a sure sign of things to come — Reince Priebus called for a moment of silence to pray for those in Isaac’s path (and the emergency responders who will be called in to help), in the only speech of the convention so far.

Unfortunately for those victims and emergency responders, prayers are just about the only support that Republicans will offer them in the inevitable wake of future natural disasters. As the non-partisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities notes, Paul Ryan’s House-approved budget would gut the discretionary federal aid that helps states respond to natural disasters such as hurricanes.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency, better known as FEMA, helps provide food, water, shelter, electric power, and other critical services in the immediate aftermath of a disaster. “This form of discretionary federal aid would be subject to cuts under the Ryan budget,” the CBPP report points out.

While the Ryan budget is characteristically vague about what exactly would be cut from FEMA, its plan to reduce non-entitlement spending to 3.5 percent of GDP in the next 40 years would assuredly include a drastic downsizing of the department.

“If [discretionary federal aid] were scaled back substantially, states and localities would need to bear a larger share of the costs of disaster response and recovery, or attempt to make do with less during difficult times,” as CBPP warns.

This presents a two-pronged problem: First, overburdened local authorities are far less prepared than FEMA for the wide range of disasters that can strike a community. Second, most states — especially some of the most disaster-prone, such as California and Mississippi — are in the midst of serious budget crises as it is. In short, the Ryan plan’s effect on disaster relief would itself be disastrous.

The CBPP report warns that “Federal discretionary funds also help states, cities, and other local governments hire police officers,” and that “Big cuts in funds to hire police officers would shift more of the cost of hiring these officers to state and local budgets.” Given Mitt Romney’s stated opposition to states hiring more police officers and firefighters, it’s safe to assume that, while first responders are in Republicans’ prayers, they aren’t in Republicans’ budgets.

Seven years ago this week, Hurricane Katrina and a lackluster response from FEMA led to one of the worst disasters in American history. Now, as climate change leads to more extreme weather than the country has ever seen, only the party that believed disgraced Bush FEMA director Michael Brown did “a heck of a job” could think it prudent to decimate the budget for disaster relief. But as Paul Ryan takes the stage in Tampa to accept the vice presidential nomination on Wednesday, remember: This is what passes as “serious” in the modern Republican party.

Photo of RNC Chairmam Reince Priebus by AP/Charlie Neibergall

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