Romney's Opposition to Federal Emergency Assistance in Disasters

by Daniel Farber

October 29, 2012

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

The federal role in disaster response dates back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, when General Funston sent troops from the Presidio to deal with the city’s desperate emergency. Governor Romney seems dubious about this century-old federal role. During one of the GOP primary debates, Governor Romney was asked what he thought about the idea of transferring FEMA’s responsibilities to the states. This is what he said:

Absolutely. 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 the opposite question, what should we keep?

John King, the moderator, then asked, “Including disaster relief, though?” Romney responded:”We cannot — we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids.”

Perhaps explaining why the federal government should be involved in disaster relief is unnecessary, but just for the record, here are several reasons:

  1. Major disasters require more resources than a single state can muster. The federal government has more resources — for instance, national guard from other states, Air Force transport plans, medics, and Coast Guard ships. The Feds can also act as a form of insurance for state governments, spreading the cost of occasional disasters more broadly rather than leaving them on a single state.
  2. Major disasters are infrequent — not every state has a disaster every year. For this reason, it makes sense to maintain centralized surge capacity rather than having to duplicate surge capacity in every state.
  3. Major disasters have multistate impacts and repercussions. For instance, reopening major roads, airports, and ports is an issue that benefits people in many states. Correspondingly, they should contribute to the necessary effort.
  4. A non-economic argument — as fellow citizens, we feel a special sense of obligation to help out each other in face of disaster rather than sitting on our hands.

Federal emergency assistance made sense in 1906, when Teddy Roosevelt was President. It still makes sense today.

Be the first to comment on this entry.
We ask for your email address so that we may follow up with you, ask you to clarify your comment in some way, or perhaps alert you to someone else's response. Only the name you supply and your comment will be displayed on the site to the public. Our blog is a forum for the exchange of ideas, and we hope to foster intelligent, interesting and respectful discussion. We do not apply an ideological screen, however, we reserve the right to remove blog posts we deem inappropriate for any reason, but particularly for language that we deem to be in the nature of a personal attack or otherwise offensive. If we remove a comment you've posted, and you want to know why, ask us (info@progressivereform.org) and we will tell you. If you see a post you regard as offensive, please let us know.

Also from Daniel Farber

Daniel A. Farber is the Sho Sato Professor of Law, Director of the California Center for Environmental Law and Policy, and Chair, Energy & Resources Group, University of California, Berkeley.

Promoting Energy Innovation

Farber | Apr 13, 2018 | Energy

Climate Change in the Courts

Farber | Apr 02, 2018 | Climate Change

Trump, EPA, and the Anti-Regulatory State

Farber | Jan 25, 2018 | Environmental Policy

The Off-Switch Is Inside the Fenceline

Farber | Dec 27, 2017 | Energy

Looking Back on Lucas

Farber | Dec 11, 2017 | Regulatory Policy

The Center for Progressive Reform

455 Massachusetts Ave., NW, #150-513
Washington, DC 20001
info@progressivereform.org
202.747.0698

© Center for Progressive Reform, 2015