Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Ryan-Bilbray Budget Drastically Reduces Disaster Preparedness and Relief

Congressman Brian Bilbray (CA-52) backed his Washington Republicans in voting for the Ryan budget that not only ends the Medicare guarantee but deeply and drastically reduces emergency response and preparedness. In fact, an analysis from Third Way says that the Ryan-Bilbray budget “would set the clock back on disaster preparation to the days before Hurricane Katrina.”

Read more about the Ryan-Bilbray budget and the damage it would do to disaster response and relief for yourself.

Ryan budget could hammer storm aid, critics say
By: Andrew Restuccia
October 30, 2012

Mitt Romney says he wants to give states more power to deal with disasters like Sandy. But his running mate’s budget plan would threaten states’ ability to respond to massive storms, some experts say.

Paul Ryan’s House-passed budget would cut non-defense discretionary funding by 22 percent starting in 2014, according to the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, which said in an August report that about one-third of that money goes to state aid for a range of needs including disaster response.

“These are very deep cuts to a part of the budget that’s already been cut a lot,” Michael Leachman, the lead author of the report, told POLITICO. “I think that it’s pretty clear that the part of the budget that includes disaster relief and other forms of state and local aid would have a pretty big target on its back.”

Leachman, director of state fiscal research at the center, said it’s possible that appropriators would shield state aid from major cuts under the Ryan budget. “But it seems more likely to us that the state aid portion would get most of the cuts,” he said.

The cuts would compound the fiscal troubles already burdening many states.

“These kind of cuts would come at a time when states and localities are already hobbled by the recession and the sluggish economy,” Leachman said. He estimates that states and local governments could lose $28 billion in 2014 under Ryan’s plan if funding for state aid is indeed cut by 22 percent.

To be sure, it’s unclear what Romney’s approach to major disasters would be. The Romney campaign stressed Monday that there is a place for agencies like FEMA, although the GOP candidate has been critical of the federal government’s role in the past.

“Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions,” Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said in a statement Monday. “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 Romney campaign did not respond to requests from POLITICO for more details about how his response to major storms might differ from President Barack Obama’s. And Romney declined to answer at least five questions from reporters in Ohio about what he would do with FEMA.

But if Ryan’s budget is any indication of Romney’s plans, FEMA and other agencies that play major roles in predicting and responding to storms could see cuts.

David Kendall, a senior fellow for health and fiscal policy at the think tank Third Way, said Ryan’s budget cuts “community and regional development,” which includes FEMA, by 62 percent below the Office of Management and Budget’s baseline.

“Four of every 10 dollars from [community and regional development] goes to disaster relief, so it would be virtually impossible for FEMA to avoid major cuts if the Republicans implemented their budget proposal,” Kendall said.
Kendall also said cuts under Ryan’s budget would prevent the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from launching a replacement polar satellite on time.

“The result would be devastating,” Kendall said. “Weather forecasts would be only half as accurate. Without this satellite, hurricane forecasters would not have been able to give Americans on the Eastern seaboard an accurate warning about Sandy.”

Forecasters have relied on satellites polar satellites since 1960 to get accurate weather data on extreme weather events, and NOAA is working to replace an existing satellite by 2016, Kendall said.

In the aftermath of Sandy, governors from states hard hit by the storm, including Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, praised the federal government’s response to far. And he touted FEMA’s role in the state’s recovery.
“I expect FEMA to be a major force here over the next couple of months. And that’s what we’re talking about. We’re talking about months,” Christie said during a Tuesday morning briefing.

Romney’s stance on FEMA was propelled into the spotlight this week after the Huffington Post dug up a transcript from a from a June 2011 CNN primary debate in which Romney raised questions about the federal government’s role in responding to disasters.

“FEMA is about to run out of money,” debate moderator John King said to Romney during the debate pointing to the May 2011 tornado that killed more than 150 people in Joplin, Mo. “And there are some people who say, ‘Do it on a case-by-case basis.’ And there are some people who say, ‘You know what, maybe we’re learning a lesson here that the states should take on more of this role.’ How do you deal with something like that?”

Romney responded that “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?’” Romney added. “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.”

King pressed Romney again. “Including disaster relief, though?” he asked.

“We cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids,” Romney responded. “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 exactly what Romney meant to say in the exchange is unclear, the comments came as Republicans in Congress were insisting that money allocated for hurricane relief be offset by spending reductions elsewhere.


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