New York MTA crews prep for Hurricane Sandy

Everyone’s linking to this New York Times op-ed about how government’s importance is magnified in the midst of natural disasters.

FEMA, created by President Jimmy Carter, was elevated to cabinet rank in the Bill Clinton administration, but was then demoted by President George W. Bush, who neglected it, subsumed it into the Department of Homeland Security, and placed it in the control of political hacks. The disaster of Hurricane Katrina was just waiting to happen.

The agency was put back in working order by President Obama, but ideology still blinds Republicans to its value. Many don’t like the idea of free aid for poor people, or they think people should pay for their bad decisions, which this week includes living on the East Coast.

Over the last two years, Congressional Republicans have forced a 43 percent reduction in the primary FEMA grants that pay for disaster preparedness. Representatives Paul Ryan, Eric Cantor and other House Republicans have repeatedly tried to refuse FEMA’s budget requests when disasters are more expensive than predicted, or have demanded that other valuable programs be cut to pay for them. The Ryan budget, which Mr. Romney praised as “an excellent piece of work,” would result in severe cutbacks to the agency, as would the Republican-instigated sequester, which would cut disaster relief by 8.2 percent on top of earlier reductions.

Rick Perlstein actually took a look at this five years ago, on the anniversary of the man-made flood caused by Hurricane Katrina. Basically, the rule of thumb is that under Republican Administrations, FEMA gets stacked with cronies and hacks, and their effectiveness suffers as a result. Then a Democratic Administration takes over, and FEMA gets restored. And back, and forth. This goes back to at least the 1980s. And considering the desire to either move emergency management to the states or privatize it on the part of Mitt Romney, we can expect this dynamic to continue.

Chris Christie, presiding over a blue state and up for re-election next year, said through gritted teeth that the response to the storm at the federal level has been “outstanding.”

Whatever the failings of political leadership on both sides of the aisle, there’s still a residual belief in the validity of government on the Democratic side that simply does not exist on the Republican side. In times like this, where the effects of FIRE sector lobbying doesn’t come into play, you see that difference in the proper role of government shine through. In order for this to become definitive, however, all government programs have to show the same diligence and dedication. One program like HAMP can wipe out years of proper actions in organizations like FEMA.

Photo by MTAPhotos under Creative Commons License