Romney Answers the FEMA Question

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Nov. 1 2012 9:53 AM

Romney Answers the FEMA Question. Kind Of.

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Mitt Romney greets supporters during a campaign rally at Metropolitan Park in Jacksonville, Florida, on Thursday

Photo by Emmanueal Dunand/AFP/Getty Images.

As Slate's Matthew Yglesias pointed out earlier this week, Mitt Romney had some not-so-nice things to say about FEMA and its role in disaster relief during the seemingly never-ending GOP primary season.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

"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," the former Massachusetts governor said at a 2011 CNN Republican debate. "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 the opposite question, what should we keep?"

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Pressed by moderator John King about whether that included disaster relief, Romney responded:

"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."

Naturally, that answer—and the attention-grabbing "immoral" remark in specific—put Romney in a rather uncomfortable position this week as Sandy battered much of the East Coast, leaving millions without power and large swaths of New Jersey and New York City underwater, and prompting an untold number of reporters to ask the GOP nominee for clarification.

What was uncomfortable at the start of the week became downright awkward for Team Romney yesterday, as New Jersey Gov. (and top Romney surrogate) Chris Christie continued to heap praise on President Obama for the federal government's response to the storm.

Late last night, Romney finally offered a statement somewhat clarifying where he stands on FEMA:

"I believe that FEMA plays a key role in working with states and localities to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. As president, I will ensure FEMA has the funding it needs to fulfill its mission, while directing maximum resources to the first responders who work tirelessly to help those in need, because states and localities are in the best position to get aid to the individuals and communities affected by natural disasters."

As others have already pointed out, that sounds an awful lot like an endorsement of the current way FEMA works. But at the same time, it leaves undefined exactly what the agency's "mission" is. It also makes no mention of whether the former governor would stick to the conservative party line and offset any federal disaster spending with cuts elsewhere in the budget and, if so, where.