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Romney and FEMA: Would Republican favor local approach?

Charles Dharapak / AP

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney waves to supporters as he takes the stage at a campaign stop at Avon Lake High School in Avon Lake, Ohio, Oct. 29, 2012.

Updated 4pm ET Many Americans have come to expect that when natural disaster strikes their hometown or state, the president will declare it a disaster area and federal dollars will soon arrive to help them rebuild their home or business.

In 2005, President George W. Bush was pummeled with criticism after telling Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, “Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job,” even though some residents and local officials in the Gulf Coast states thought the federal effort was inadequate.

Given the politics of natural disasters, Hurricane Sandy might become an issue in the waning days of the 2012 campaign.

Like many other Americans on Monday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took note of the hurricane that is lashing the Eastern Seaboard, telling a crowd in Avon Lake, Ohio, “A lot of people are going to be facing some real tough times as a result of Sandy's fury. And so if you have the capacity to make a donation to the American Red Cross, you can go online and do that. If there are other ways that you can help, please take advantage of them because there will be a lot of people that are going to be looking for help and the people in Ohio have big hearts, so we're expecting you to follow through and help out.”

The Daily Rundown's Chuck Todd reports with the latest.

If Romney becomes president, will he attempt to cut funding for FEMA which sends money to states hit by natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy?

And if FEMA funding were reduced, would that mean reduced federal help for places hit by hurricanes, tornadoes , and earthquakes? Or would Congress find ways to re-route the money, given the political popularity of sending checks to people whose houses or businesses have been flooded?

Romney campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said, "Gov. Romney believes that states should be in charge of emergency management in responding to storms and other natural disasters in their jurisdictions. 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.”

In the fiscal year which just ended, the federal government spent $10 billion on disaster relief and the Congressional Budget Office projects that it will spend roughly that amount every year for the next ten years. By comparison, the CBO forecasts that defense spending will be about $635 billion a year for the next few years and Social Security spending will amount to about $810 billion a year.

Romney hasn’t specifically explained by what amount he’d try to cut FEMA funding, but he has set ambitious goals for reducing federal outlays other than on defense and entitlement programs.

Romney has said he’d try to cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent in 2013 and bring total federal spending to below 20 percent of gross domestic product by the end of his first term.

He has said on his campaign Website that he wants to see Congress enact the budget plan which the House passed last March but which the Senate rejected. That budget blueprint called for greater efficiency in disaster relief spending.

But Romney has also put distance between himself and that House GOP budget plan, drafted by his running mate, House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan, by saying, "His plan is not the plan I’ll put forward, I have my own plan …”

 

Lucas Jackson / Reuters

After strong winds and heavy rain washed out bridges and damaged homes in multiple countries, the hurricane looks toward the northeastern U.S.

Asked about federal disaster relief spending on places such as Joplin, Mo., which was struck by a tornado last year, Romney said in a June 2011 debate on CNN, “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.”

He added, “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.”

Debate moderator John King then asked, “Including disaster relief, though?”

Romney’s reply: “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.”

The Ryan budget blueprint said it seeks to “ensure that those state and local governments most in need are receiving the assistance required.”

It calls for “improving efficiencies in state and local programs” when it comes to disaster recovery and “improved cost-estimating and efforts to help states and localities use existing resources to help communities recover from disasters expeditiously and cost-effectively.”

There are eight days before election day, but there may be even fewer campaign days left as Hurricane Sandy causes problems with campaign travel. NBC's Chuck Todd reports on the changes to both candidates' plans.

The GOP plan argues that the Obama administration has been too liberal in its use of taxpayer funds by labeling too many events as disasters worthy of federal money.

“The current administration has issued a total of 2,213 disaster declarations— 66 percent of all FEMA disaster declarations since 1953 in the span of three years alone,” said the Budget Committee report. That report also cites a study by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office which found that from 2002 to 2011, “presidents have declared 35 percent more disasters than they did during the preceding decade.”

The Budget Committee argued that “When disaster-relief decisions are not made judiciously, limited resources are diverted away from communities that are truly in need.”

The GOP plan said Congress ought to “take a closer look at” steps such as reducing federal spending “by updating disaster declaration eligibility indicators, like per capita thresholds and other major disaster metrics, by (for example) adjusting for inflation.”

Congress must try to “increase transparency in the way that disaster declaration decisions are made,” the report said, which seems to imply that some disaster declarations are not made for legitimate reasons but rather because a powerful member of Congress or governor is able to persuade the president to send federal money.